|The Untold Hunger Games
Author: PEETA-POWER16 PM
Caleb and Marina Alekson are 14 year old twins living in District 4, a small region in the nation of Panem. Their lives focus on protecting their family and caring for eachother. But when they are both chosen to go into the Hunger Games, who will surviveRated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Sci-Fi - Mags & Annie C. - Words: 57,933 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 2 - Follows: 3 - Published: 02-28-12 - id: 7880107
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Untold Hunger Games:
Chapter 1: Marina
No. No, this can't be happening. I swear I must have heard it wrong. When the hand reached into the ball, grabbed the slip of paper and read the name, I felt detached from my body. "Marina Alekson." The wind whipped through the silent crowd. The only things that registered was the quiet weeping of my mother, and the firm hold of my brother's hand gripping my upper arm, keeping me from walking towards the stage. All eyes were on us. "No," he said angrily, "I won't let you go. I- I'll volunteer."
"Caleb, you can't. You have to know that it's better this way! Take care of the family. Just let me go!" I struggled and I fought back tears, not wanting to make a scene.
"I can't do that Mari!" people were staring now.
"Stop! I have no choice!" I broke free from my brother's grasp, and made my way slowly towards the stage, trying my very best to be strong. It would not be in my best interest to look like a weakling now. I must be brave for my twin and my baby sister and my poor mother. I cannot turn my back on them.
As I climb the steps of the platform in the town square, I stare at the down at the faces of my district. My people. My home. Goodbye neighbors. Goodbye shopkeepers. Goodbye fisherman. Goodbye justice building and peace keepers and school. Goodbye home. A single tear trickles down my cheek. I hastily wiped it away, hoping it went unnoticed.
"Excellent, excellent," says our new escort, Kellie Davisson, "Now for the gentlemen," she squeaks.
Not Troy, not Troy. I lock eyes with my best friend, whose face was pale with his sky blue eyes glittering. If Troy was picked, what would I do? I push the thought away. Not now, definitely not now. The air is so quiet now except for the circling sea gulls as the crowd draws in a breath of anxiety. What innocent child will be reaped next? The name is read and I relax. It isn't Troy Devons. Then I notice everyone is staring at me with faces of concern. My mother is sobbing. What? Who was it? What did I miss? The scene finally registers as I watch Caleb take the stage. Only one thought comes to my mind. I can't kill my own brother.
Chapter 2: Caleb.
I can't kill my own sister. I think over and over again. As I stand on that stage, the agonized cries of our district fill my ears. They must know one of us will die. I already know who, and it isn't Mari. They must believe that I will protect her. I'll be by her side the entire time, until the end. If it comes down to the two of us, I'll kill myself if that's what it takes. All I know is I won't kill my own sister, no matter what the capitol forces us to do. I won't conform, for Marina's sake.
I tune out whatever that capitol lady is saying and focus on my sister's face. What is she thinking now? Is it possible that she has the same plan I do? No, I won't let her go through with it. I try to look at her, but she won't meet my eyes. She must be afraid of crying when she sees me. I nod to myself. She's right, we have to look like fighters if I'm going to get my twin home again.
After Kellie announces our mentor, a woman in her thirties named Maggie Doyle who everyone just calls Mags that won the games a few years back, The mayor closes the ceremony with, "Now is the starting point of the 57th Hunger Games!"
Before the crowd can disperse and return to their homes, Marina and I are escorted to the inside of the Justice Building for the final goodbyes before we are shipped off to the capitol like meat being prepared for the stew. I'm so angry right now: angry at the capitol, at my life, at the games, at that stupid Carly Davidson or whatever her name is and her stupid capitol accent, angry at everything. I guess that's how I deal with sadness.
"You have an hour in here," says a guard, "Then you will be escorted to the train station."
Mari locks her eyes on him until he is well out of ear-shot, and then buries her head in my shoulder, already sobbing.
"How…can they do this to us?" she murmurs, her words hardly comprehendible between sobs, "How can they do this to our family?"
"I know, I know," I hug her tightly, trying to release the tension in my throat and the watering of my eyes. My shoulder is soaked with her tears. One of us has to be strong, and so far it isn't going to be Marina. We sit like that for a few more minutes until my mother and baby sister Gracelyn arrive for goodbyes.
You see, they usually split up the two tributes into different rooms for goodbyes, but because we have the same family, we'll be in the same room to wish our family farewell, and then we'll be separated.
"Mari!" says our three year old sister as she leaps into the arms of my twin.
"Gracie," Marina whispers.
"Don't cry, Mari. I know you and Cay will win," baby Grace smiles confidently, "When you come home we can play tag!" This gets both of us to smile.
I turn to the petite auburn haired woman standing in front of the doorway. "Mom," I say, and run into her open arms.
"Caleb. You take care of your sister," she says quietly to me. Of course she must know what I was thinking, that only one of us can live.
"Mom," I force her to look at me, "Only one of us can come back. Only one," I say firmly.
"Caleb-" she tries to stop me as a tear trickles down her cheek.
"It has to be her, it has to be. Do you understand?" I ask, letting my anger at our situation get the best of me.
"It- there has to be some other way! Maybe you can…" my mother stops when she sees my face.
"I'm not coming back, ever."
Chapter 3: Marina
"No Caleb. Don't talk about this now. Please," my eyes take on this vulnerable pleading look I only get when I'm desperate. I can't bear to think that one and probably both of us will die in the next month. It is just too much to take in right now, plus he's upsetting Gracelyn.
"Who's not coming back? Who?" she asks, clearly confused by this mess of a morning.
"Don't you worry. Mommy will keep you close," says my mother, picking the baby up off my lap and carefully avoiding her question for the moment. The next thing I know, the guard is gesturing to finish up and that my family must leave. Now we are all hugging and kissing goodbye, with final "I love you's" and "Take care's" and more last words to one another. Then, my crying mother and confused Grace are led away from us, maybe forever. Probably forever. It would be better for Caleb if it was forever…
The guard returns and takes Caleb into another room for separate farewells. I wait quietly, drowned in thought for my next visitor. And I'm not surprised when it's Troy's face I see. Without hesitation, he takes me in his arms and holds me tight. I feel his strong muscles, hard against my figure, tense with anger and sadness. I look up into my best friend's face.
"Mari, if there was something I could have done-" I shake my head and he stops. "I'm just so sorry. This is so unfair, so unjust!" He is shouting now.
I rarely see Troy like this. It's only a few times when he feels so strongly about something, and this is one of those times.
"You need to win, Marina," Tory is very serious now.
"But Caleb- he's my brother. I have to-"
"You have to focus on yourself. You have to focus in survival and hope to god that it doesn't come down to the two of you."
"I will," I vow quietly.
Troy hugs me once more and whispers, "I need you to win. You can't die."
I feel a drop on my shoulder, before he is escorted out of the room by two peace keepers.
"I need you too, Troy," I say to the air because Troy is gone. But he has to know that I can't win. Caleb will, no matter what he says.
As I wait deep in thought, my next visitor surprises me. "Annie." I smile at my friend. She's so young and small that her head barely reaches my shoulders. Annie's only eight, but she's one of the smartest people I know. She's like me. Her father went out to sea when she was six, and he's been gone ever since. Her mother past away when she was only four, and my family has sort of taken her in, looked after her. I look down at the young girl hugging me and look straight into two large green eyes set on mine.
"You know what to do, Marina," says Annie, "When you are in the Cornucopia, it is your choice to fight for weapons and food or not. Then you can make allies with other tributes, I recommend the most promising, one and two. After, you need to set up camp near a water source, or else you will have to-"
"Annie," I say calmly. She's talking so fast her face is turning red.
"You are going to win, Mari. You will," she sticks out her chin and crosses her arms stubbornly. I take a good look at her. It is times like these where Annie Cresta looks so small and insecure, merely a tiny dark haired eight year old with a temper. Despite her vocabulary, I see who she really is.
"Annie I'm only fourteen. You have to understand that the other tributes will be older, bigger, and stronger. My chances of survival are very slim. Plus there's my brother…"
"Just promise me you'll try your very hardest. Please," Annie whispers between tears. Annie almost never cries, I've never really seen her this way.
"I promise," I say back, and the she is gone.
Oh no, I think to myself, because now I will have to try, for her.
Chapter 4: Caleb
"I love you," Gwen whispers in my arms. Wow. That's what we've both been waiting to say since we were little.
I finally get to say, "I love you too." Those are big words for a fourteen year old.
"You do?" she looks up at me surprised.
I smile and shake my head, "Yeah. I'm really going to miss you."
"Don't say that. Please, you have to come home. Caleb, you have to win."
"Gwen, you know I can't do that," I say as her eyes start to water, "I am going into that arena with one purpose, and that is to protect my sister."
"This is the last time I'll see you. This is goodbye."
"It doesn't have to be that way," she pleads, "You can split up and hope that it won't come down to the two of you. You can work separately so you won't be faced with killing one another. Won't you do that? For me?"
That may be the best way…but I need to be there by Mari's side, not separated from her! But I love Gwen. And I love Marina. Oh god what am I going to do?
Gwen reaches up to touch my cheek as a tear spills down my face. She can tell I am battling with myself so she says, "Don't think about it now. But know that I'll be here waiting for you when you come home."
Blue eyes meet green ones. My hand strokes her long blonde hair. God she's so beautiful, especially when she's being stubborn. I smile despite how I feel inside. I lean down to kiss her goodbye. Her lips are so soft and sweet that it's so impossible to imagine this is the last time we'll ever kiss. I let my mind wander away to yesterday when I told myself I was going to marry Gwendolyn Harris. Was that only yesterday?
The guard gestures her time is up. As we break our kiss, she stares straight into my eyes, "Remember what I said," her forehead rests against mine, "My heart will always be with you. Good luck to you and Marina. I- I won't forget you…" her voice trails off as he turns to go.
"I love you Gwendolyn."
That's it. She's gone. Gwen and I grew up together. We went to school together. I remember when she kissed me on the cheek in third grade. I smile wistfully. She was my first kiss and my last. I have thought tremendously about what she said, though, and I think it may be a good strategy. I don't want to commit suicide protecting Marina. What use would I be to her dead? If we both try our best on our own, and pray it doesn't come down to the two of us, then she could still win. But I couldn't let her die. I couldn't just leave her alone in that arena! How could I live with myself if she died because I wasn't there to protect her? I don't know. I don't know, I don't know, I don't know!
After two more visitors (Little Annie Cresta and my best friend, Aiden), I see two peace keepers signal one another that we are to be escorted to the train station now. I look at myself in the mirror hanging on one wall of the expensively furnished room with its velvet couches and mahogany wood imported from district seven. Good, I think because I do not look like I have just been crying. Cameras will be swarming out there, and looking like a weakling will not help me now. I hope Marina has thought of this too.
As I am reunited with my sister, her eyes are red, but only slightly. She has been crying, but has worked hard to cover it up. The fierce look in her blue-green eyes is enough to distract attention from any signs of recent tears. I was right. As we step onto the platform, flashing cameras and raving people almost distract me from what lies ahead. I'm glad I've got Marina in this huge crowd. It takes almost fifteen minutes to walk through the main center of the town to get to the train station. We board the train, and are escorted by Kellie (I found out her name) to separate rooms.
I lie down on the bed and stare at the ceiling. I sort through my insides, searching for fear, sadness, anger, love, emotion, anything! But I come up empty handed. I feel nothing. I am empty and hollow inside. It seems the events of the day have left me emotionless inside this train car, as I am shipped off to the capitol alone in my own apathetic world.
Chapter 5: Marina
"Dinnertime! Come to the dining car Marina!" Kellie knocks on my door.
I throw off the blue dress I was wearing for the reaping and sort through the drawers in my room. I pick a soft grey shirt that flows to my thighs and long navy blue pants. I brush my wet hair that smells of sweet shampoo. I've never had a shower like that before! There were hundreds of buttons for each setting. The shower we have at home rarely ever has hot water! Before leaving my room, I stare at the girl in the mirror. She's so young looking, so insecure with her wide light green eyes and wet auburn hair. I really don't look that fierce. I sigh. If I want to be a competitor in these games I better change my attitude.
There's more food on one table then I've ever had in a day of my life. We always lived in the poorer part of town, where the hard working fisherman and their families live. When my father went out to sea, our family is paid for his services to the capitol, on trading ships exporting goods by sea and up the river. In addition to that, Caleb and I go fishing every weekend for food, as permitted by the Mayor because our father cannot provide a week's food for us. Frankly, I am so sick of eating fish.
Before anyone gets a word out, Caleb and I start eating the rolls of warm bread and buttery potatoes and perfectly seasoned salads. There's more too! Beef stew filled with carrots, tiny red potatoes, and onions. Chicken soup with broth that tastes so incredible I can't believe what I am eating! Caleb and I exchange glances. This is incredible. Mags clears her throat, which draws our attention away from the food for a moment.
"Caleb and Marina Alekson. What are you?" she asks.
"What are we? Excuse me?" Caleb shows his confusion. I nod because I am confused too.
"Well are you lazy? Are you wimps? Are you worthless?" she raises an eyebrow, "Or are you fighters, because fighters play to win."
I don't know how to respond. What does one say to that anyway? Caleb speaks up, "I know I'll fight until the end. I'm not a quitter. I wrestle and swim. I know how to find food. I can use some weapons," It's true, everything he said.
"And what about you?" Mags nods towards me.
I don't want to talk about this. I'm not ready for my whole life to change. In fact, I also don't want to talk to her. She intimidates me, even if I won't admit it. "I know how to fish and hunt little. I know what plants to eat," I say quietly, even though I'm supposed to be confident, "I'm a very fast runner and swimmer. I throw knives…"
"She doesn't just throw them, she never misses. Ever." Caleb adds. I blush slightly, which makes me feel stupid.
"Show me," Mags says gesturing to the sharp black-handled knife beside my food dish.
I pick up the knife hesitantly, and stare around the room for a target. I choose a picture frame in the back of the room, hit it dead on, and send it crashing to the floor. Then I pick up Caleb's knife and send it flying into a statue's head, right between the eyes. Mags is staring at me with approval.
"Hmm," she nods, "Not bad. Maybe we can make victors out of you." Clearly, Mags doesn't really know how to mentor a brother and sister. There can only be one victor, and it's most likely going to be neither of us. Like I said, I need to change my attitude.
Later, we are sent off to bed, but I sneak into Caleb's room. "You awake?" I say quietly.
"Huh? Mari? What are you doing here?" my brother sits up and turns on the lights.
"I'm scared," oh I sound no more mature than Grace! But the words are out before I can stop them.
"Me too," Caleb admits quickly before we are hugging one another so tightly I can't breathe. At least neither one of us is crying this time. I'm all cried out.
"I had to leave Gwen behind. I love her. I know it sounds silly, but I want to marry her. Well want-ed," he tells me a little while later.
"It doesn't sound silly. It sounds sweet."
"Well it's not going to happen now."
"You don't know that," I say.
His dark green eyes stare directly into mine, "Yes I do, Marina."
I return to my room a few minutes later, only to find I can't fall asleep. I toss and turn, but I can't seem to turn my mind off tonight. It's a shame because I could actually use a good sleep. Well, I'll be in the capitol tomorrow with much bigger things to worry about than lack of sleep, won't I?
Chapter 6: Caleb
I press my face against to cool glass of the train window and wait for what we've been seeing on television for years, the capitol itself. This train must move fast, because it's only been two days and we are already in the tunnel underneath the mountains that leads to the capitol. My sister is beside me staring through a different window. But honestly, how could you not? If the real capitol looks anything like it does on television, it has to be incredible to see up close!
"We are approaching the entrance!" Kellie smiles. Is she ever not happy? It's just unnatural.
"Are you ready?" Mari squeezes my hand.
I nod, and squeeze her hand back. I may not actually be ready for this, but maybe it will help Marina feel more secure if I am confident, or if I at least pretend to be.
"Wow," I breathe in awe. Nothing we see on television compares to the capitol, to this! The buildings are so tall and oddly shaped. Everything is so colorful and artificial, including the people. Many of them stare and point at our train going by, recognizing the district 4 tribute train. Marina and I smile and wave at them. Many start shrieking as they see us waving directly at them, as if they've been loved by a celebrity. As if. It's more like they've been loved by two animals being prepared for slaughter.
We are hesitant to get off the train, but we have Mags and Kellie to push us along.
"The first thing you do in the capitol is meet your stylists. They will prepare you for you chariot ride through the capitol tonight. Listen, this is very important. Tonight will be the first time the people get to know you, see you, and even start to understand you. Like I said, they will wonder what you are: quitters, wimps, or if you have the potential to be winners. And believe me, where sponsors are concerned, first impressions could not be more important. If you want to survive, then these next two weeks are crucial. You need to make your mark tonight, understood?"
Marina and I both nod, half in fear. Is she always this serious? It will be hard to take direction from her if she's always intimidating us. Plus, having a good mentor is a key factor in surviving the games. Even if I don't plan on surviving, I need to stick around for Marina. I better get to know Mags better theses next few days, for our own sake.
We are escorted through the crowd and into the training center, where we will be staying until the games begin. Once inside the elevator, Kellie presses "4" and we shoot up to the fourth floor. Literally, shoot. I've never been in a fast, clear glass elevator like this before. I catch a similar amazement radiating in my sister's eyes as well. Mags chuckles at our beaming faces. So she does have a sense of humor! My room is across the hall from my sister's. We are given twenty minutes to get settled until we are to meet our stylists around lunchtime. When I get acclimated to my room, I sneak a chance to talk to Marina about something I've been meaning to talk with her about.
"Marina, have you thought about a district token?" I say quietly once she lets me in her room.
"Actually, I forgot all about it. It looks like I'll be the only tribute without one."
"Not necessarily," I say pulling a red velvet pouch no larger than my palm out of my pocket and handing it to her.
"What's this?" she asks, untying the strings at the top.
"Oh, Troy gave it to me as he left your room in the Justice Building."
"Yeah he stopped in for a moment, to tell me to give this to you once you were in the capitol."
"But why didn't he just- oh!" she stops mid-sentence, once she sees the contents of the bag. I takes me a moment to notice Marina is shaking, and speaking in tiny sobs, "How-could you-let…let him give me-this? I shouldn't…I'm not supposed to have it until he comes home! That's what he said, that's what he promised!"
"What! What is it?" I instinctively out my arm around her, trying to shield her from whatever brings her pain.
As Marina stops shaking so violently, she holds up a large ring, definitely a man's, that wouldn't fit around her thumb. On top of the band, there's a clear ball filled with about five drops of what seems to be seawater inside, and the ring is on a chain for her to wear around her neck.
"Oh," I mumble quietly as I remember the day our father was recruited to work at sea.
"I promise when I come home I'll bring each of you one of my big rings, filled with different kinds of waters from all my adventures," he told us that day six years ago by the docks as he prepared to leave.
"How will you get the water in the ring, Daddy?" Marina asked, only a child then.
"It'll have a magic crystal ball on top, just for you." He tweaked my sister's nose.
"There's a note from Troy in here too," I point out to Mari, who has calmed down quite a bit.
"Oh," she wipes her nose, and unfolds the note. It's clearly Troy's handwriting, written on a small piece of paper. Marina reads aloud, "Dear Marina, I took one of my father's rings and made this for you to wear as your district token. The water inside is from the docks by home, so you'll have a little piece of District 4 with you no matter what. It's just what your father would have wanted. I'm proud of you, and proud to be your best friend. I can't wait until you come home. Love, Troy. PS: Thank the jeweler's shop in town, they helped me too!"
"Yeah," She sniffles and I can tell she's still shaken up, and lonely.
"You want to know what my district token is?" I perk up, trying to improve the moment.
"Sure," says Marina.
"It's Gwen's," I say, digging through my pocket for what I'm looking for. I show her the tiny blue fish earring Gwen gave me one day when I was fishing.
She sat beside me and smiled, "Here," she said, taking off her earring, "So you'll always know I have the other half."
That couldn't have been more than a month ago.
"How are you going to wear this?" Marina asks, interested, "Don't tell me you are going to try and get your ear pierced!"
"Why not?" I shrug.
"Hah! I bet you'll cry or pass out when you see that needle anywhere near your earlobe!"
"Not true!" I defend myself.
"Yes it is," she retorts.
"It is not!"
"I think you know it's true, Caleb." Mari crosses her arms.
"I think I know you're teasing me. You'll see as soon as my token gets cleared, I'm going to have my stylist pierce my ear for me! And I'll be fine."
"Good luck with that," Marina smirks before shooing me out the door.
I sigh, She always wins these battles.
Chapter 7: Marina.
"My name is Tigris. I will be your stylist in the Hunger Games," says a very strange woman sitting before me. She is quite obviously a capitol citizen with her strange body piercings and hair coloring. Her hair is jet black with the tips dyed bright orange, she has tiger stripes tattooed up her arms, and she wears green cat-eye contacts. Her makeup is done is such a way that gives her a very- catlike appearance. Tigris's tone of voice is almost like a purr, which is oddly in character. Wow. You'd think a woman so capitol-ized may look grotesque or at least extremely ugly. However, the way she looks right now is pretty cool. Any more enhancements would push this look over the edge, but right now Tigris's style is simply interesting. As I evaluate Tigris's looks, she continues, "Right now I am to have your prep team come in to prepare you for the chariot ride. I'm considering what angle to go for you."
"What angle?" I question Tigris as she studies my body and facial features.
"You know, sexy, girly, fierce? We need to pick an angle for you," she explains.
"I like fierce," I smile.
"No," she shakes her head thoughtfully, "You are too sweet looking for that."
I pout. "Girly?" Gosh I hope not!
"Nope," Tigris thinks another moment in silence, "I've got it! You are going to be something no District 4 tribute has ever been before. Mysterious."
I look at her quizzically, but that's it. She isn't going to tell me anything else. As Tigris exits, three noisy people enter and set up more beauty supplies than I have ever seen in my whole lifetime. Then they stop talking very abruptly, and stare at me. I look around awkwardly, hoping I'm not blushing.
"No need to blush child, I'm just deciding which shade of eyeliner is right for you," says a very tall woman with bright pink hair and leaves tattooed on her cheeks. So much for not blushing.
"Let me introduce them," says another odd looking woman who appears to be a rainbow. Her hair, her skin, her nails, everything is painted like a rainbow. I'm having a hard time focusing on her. "I am Cassandra, that's Ivy, and this is Terrance."
But Terrance is already filing my nails into perfect ovals, and Ivy is running her fingers through my hair. I look back at Cassandra but she too has begun to inspect my legs.
"Oh good," she nods in approval at me, "You shave your legs."
"Thanks, I think," I mumble.
"Last year we had District Ten and they don't shave there! It was horrendous," squeaks Ivy in her silly capitol accent. The only reason I shaved back home is because I was told it makes you swim faster.
"Oh," I say quietly.
Finally, over an hour later, my prep team deems me "pretty enough" to get into my costume. Oh God, what will I be wearing? I bite my lip and run through all of the District 4 costumes we had in the past. Fisherman, Fish, Sailors, Fisherman, oh did I say that already? I just hope for two things, that Tigris designed something hopefully creative and new, and that I am fully clothed. That's not too much to ask for, right?
"Here we are," says Terrance, pulling off the protective water proof covering on something on a hanger. I lean forward, anticipating seeing what's inside. I did not expect to see what I saw.
"Tigris designed this? It's…it's" I try to find the right word in the moment, "Beautiful!" I gasp. I have never seen anything like this in the games before, and I can hardly imagine myself wearing it. My prep team is beaming at the look on my face and smiling at my excitement.
"Want to wear it now?" Cassandra smirks.
"Yes!" I'm still staring at the outfit (costume?) before me. I've never seen anything like it! It sure is original, and even though I won't be fully clothed, it's okay this time.
Once I struggle into the tight garments, I am brought before a full length mirror and propped up in a chair, because standing might prove difficult. I gasp at my own reflection. I am beautiful. No, I am a goddess. No I am…mysterious. I keep opening and closing my mouth trying to find the words to say, while my prep team just laughs at my reaction. My makeup is soft, and rosy, applied in a way that makes me seem as if I am shimmering and glowing with glitter. Two strands of my hair are pinned from the front to the back, then the rest cascades down my back in a shower of red-auburn ringlets. I wear a crown of shells to match my identical shell necklace and earrings. I have a starfish bracelet to match my starfish and seaweed top, well hardly a top, more like half a top. And let's not forget my long, shimmering polyester turquoise tail complete with fins and all. Yes, I am a mermaid.
Chapter 8: Caleb
When I see her, I widen my eyes. My sister has literally been transformed into a mythical being of the sea. "Wow," I say.
"Yeah," she smiles, "You like it trident boy?"
"You look like a mermaid," I respond, shifting my golden trident to my left hand.
"Wow you are observant, aren't you?" Marina smirks. We are walking (well I am, but she's being wheeled by a capitol attendant in a wheelchair because her legs are bound by that tail) towards the starting point of the chariots, where the capitol audience will have a good look at us for the first time.
"I like the trident and the crown, oh great king of the sea."
"That's the idea, I guess," I nod at my costume, which is pretty awesome and much better than the fisherman getups in previous years. A good stylist can make or break you in this competition.
"Something tells me that audience is going to remember us, dressed like this!" I say, thinking about how fantastic we look, especially Mari.
"That's the goal as a great stylist," says Tigris in her cat-like purr, finally catching up with us.
"I hope we achieve it," says Mason, Caleb's stylist.
"You definitely will," Marina smiles at her tail. I think she's always secretly wanted to be a mermaid, like a child with a fantasy dream. I don't blame her, if I could grow a tail and swim far, far away from here, I would.
"I agree," I say.
I climb into the chariot on my own, then I help Mason and Tigris lift Marina into the seat set up in such a way that the audience would be blind to miss that turquoise tail. As we are getting set up in the order, starting with District One, I hold my breath.
"I'm nervous," Mari says, as if echoing my own thoughts.
"Don't worry. We look great, it'll all be fine," I breathe slowly, saying this more for me than for her.
Marina stares off into the distance thoughtfully. I turn my head and look behind us. There is Mags and Kellie Davisson sitting on the side. I see Mags make eye contact with me and nod her head as her dirty blonde hair falls around her shoulders.
"Alright you two, you're chariot's up next," explains Mason, "We are going for a superiority look here."
"Superiority?" I ask for clarification.
"Yes, you are to act special, feel special, and well you already look special. You are already getting extra attention as the first pair of siblings ever in an arena at once, now show the audience you deserve their attention because that's what you'll want in the arena."
That's the most I've ever heard Tigris say, but I do take the time to process her information. Knowing the audience in the capitol, they are probably going nuts with curiosity about us. Now is the time to show what we've got: that we are special, that we are worthy of their admiration, and that we do have what it takes to win. This is it.
I feel our chariot give a little jerk as the horses prepare to leave.
"Good luck!" Mason calls as we ride slowly away, "We'll be in the back!" he points to a section by Kellie and Mags.
I feel my stomach do a little flip and my heart rate increase as we are nearing the raving crowd. It's a zoo out there! I've never seen so many people in one place at one time! And this has to be the most colorful crowd too; some people have even dyed their skin strange colors as well as hair and nails. I wonder if they all know how ridiculous they look to normal people. Maybe that's what they think about us, too. Finally, our chariot emerges so that my sister and I are revealed to the crowd as the mermaid and the King of the Sea. I can feel all eyes turning towards us, and the loud shrieks of awe as people realize Marina is a mythical sea creature. That has got to be a first. I look over at her, but she is already on top of this. Marina is smiling and waving and catching people's roses acting very above it all. I begin to do the same, hoping that's what our stylists wanted. Marina is clutching my arm for support, and I realize how her hand is shaking. If she's nervous, she sure doesn't show it, I think, Mari's a natural with this crowd!
Finally, our chariot approaches the center square, but the crowd's eyes are still trained on us, particularly Marina's bright tail that glimmers even more in the setting sunlight. It's definitely mesmerizing. It's almost as if her costume is filled with tiny lights. I have also noticed some glances shot my way, and I guess my golden crown and trident must be shining in a similar way. As the anthem blares through the speakers, I lock eyes with Marina and smile triumphantly. She returns the smile, equally proud. Though we have not spoken, both of us know we've stolen the show tonight.
Chapter 9: Marina
"Thank you so much Tigris and Mason! We couldn't have done it without you!" I smile so big because I couldn't be more thrilled with the events of tonight.
"You are welcome," says Tigris, "But get some rest, you both have a big day tomorrow."
I feel my breath quicken in nervousness at the thought of tomorrow. The first day of training.
"Not yet," Mags says behind us, "We need to talk and come up with a plan for your strategy in that training room."
My brother and I stare at her. We have to have a strategy for that? Since when?
"Come on," she gestures for us to follow.
The next thing I know, it's eleven o' clock, and Caleb, Mags, and I are in the Lounge room, discussing the events of tomorrow.
"You don't want to show off your best skills yet. Which means, Marina, no knives, Caleb, no wrestling. Your best bet is to try new things. Learn camouflage, learn what plants to eat, try your hand at a new weapon or two. That's what I recommend. Also, present yourself as a team. It's okay to make new allies, but do it together. I expect you plan to stick together in the arena, am I right?" Mags asks, raising her eyebrow ever so slightly.
"That was my plan," Caleb stares at his hands.
"Me too," I say almost in a whisper, staring at Caleb after a long pause.
Mags takes a deep breath and touches my hand, "You are a good sister. And you are a good brother. Protect each other. Do what you planned. I have faith in you both." A tear drops onto her hand, despite my efforts not to cry and look weak in front of her. "Hey," Mags forces me to look up, "It'll be okay. You'll blow them away in training, I believe it."
"You do?" Caleb asks, eyes wide. I agree, we have never seen this side of Mags.
"Yes," she responds, returning to her normal self, "Just remember what I said."
I nod, I know won't forget.
This elevator ride is not like the last one. This time, the elevator just keeps going downward and downward as far as the eye can see! How far down is this training center? As the elevator is descending, I exchange glances with Caleb, and I see my own nervousness reflected in his eyes. This is scary, I know. Our first day or training, I think, What could possibly go wrong?
Once we finally reach our destination, the training rules are explained to us by a tall, athletic woman whose name I didn't catch. I was too nervous to pay attention. Basically, the only rule is no offensive actions towards other tributes. That I can handle.
As she speaks, I take a look at my opponents. The pair from District One are very tall and strong-looking, especially the girl. From District Two, the two tributes look exactly the same, with the same dark brown hair and eyes, same overall height and muscles size, and even same facial expressions. I don't think they are related like Caleb and me, though. The two from District Three are paying very close attention to the trainer, as if they are hanging on her every word. The boy from District Five has to be six foot tall. I think he'd be the one to stay away from. His district partner looks to be my age with hair to match me too. Redheads. The two from District Six and Seven seem small and not very powerful, sort of like the ones who will unfortunately die on the first day. The girl from District Eight looks to be a few years older than me, with straight black hair and very tan skin, almost brown but not quite. She has warm brown eyes that try to mask the fierceness behind them, but don't succeed. She looks like a fighter, I think. The pair from Ten both are twelve year olds, which is depressing. Being 14, I'm on the younger side of the tributes, but twelve is even worse, it's the youngest you can get. The tributes from Eleven and Twelve both don't look very impressive. They look underfed and timid as usual, which results in their deaths within a few days usually.
As I assess my competition, I notice several eyes staring at us, then flitting away at my gaze. I bet it'll be a show for everyone to see a brother and sister in the games, everyone except us, that is. I finally snap back to reality when I hear the trainer announce, "The training may begin."
Chapter 10: Caleb
"Where do you want to start," I say, looking at the various stations set up for our benefit.
"Umm…well Mags said try new things, right? How about edible plants?" Marina suggests.
We walk over to the trainer at the station who is to teach us all he can about what plants are safe to eat, and how to recognize them. We spend almost an hour at this station, soaking up as much information as possible. I learned what kinds of plants we may encounter (although that's hard to predict), how to use vegetation to track a water source, and unless you are 100 percent sure of your actions, avoid berries because they are very risky; one wrong decision and you could be dead in a matter of seconds.
As we conclude our session at the edible plants station, I really want to try out a new weapon. Because we are supposed to stick together, Marina and I both go to the archery station. I've wielded knives, swords, tridents, axes, and even a mace once, but I have never learned how to use a bow and arrows. We spend over an hour at this station, learning the basics of archery. It seems simpler than it looks. Basically, if you have good aim, you're okay. That isn't a problem for either of us.
"Camouflage?" Marina asks next.
I cringe, "Fine."
Honestly, I'm no artist. Never have, never will be. Drawing and painting and art like that actually frustrates me, but I hope this is different. The trainer at that station instructs us on the proper places to find materials to disguise yourself or a weapon or anything else you might want to hide. There are various sets of berry juices and mud samples for us to practice with. The trainer dubs Marina "An A student," when she paints herself into a sand bank on a beach, like something we would see at home. I somehow manage to do a decent job turning into a mud puddle, but really, it's no masterpiece.
The next station we stop at is the weight lifting section of the training center. Marina and I are both physically fit and somewhat muscular. I hope Mags wouldn't count this as "Showing off our skills."
"I bet I can bench press more than seventy pounds," I brag.
"Pshh! That's nothing! I could lift that and I only weigh a little more than that! I bet I could go up to eighty," she proclaims.
"How about ninety?"
"Let's see muscle man," Marina teases. She better not be testing my manliness.
Pretty soon we both start having a lot of fun. The thing is, when you have fun with someone you care about, I guess you stop paying attention to where you are and who your with because we starting getting pretty loud. Marina laughed, I rolled my eyes, and it was like we were little again. I guess that's when I noticed them. Everyone. Staring at us.
"Ooo! Let's see one hundred! I don't care how muscular you think you are, there's no way you-"
"Marina," I grab her arm and cock my head towards the gaping people.
"Huh? What?" she turns around, and it's like I can visibly see her growing self-conscious.
"Don't worry about them. Come on, back to the lesson,"
"Right," Marina turns her attention back to what the trainer watned us to actually be doing.
I can't believe I forgot how the tributes would react to us in the games. There has never before been two people that were related to each other in the same arena at once. Ever. Now that it's actually happened, any interaction between Marina and me is always observed and taken into consideration. Now, seeing us act so openly with each other, the other tributes act as though it is the most interesting thing they've ever seen. My life certainly wasn't interesting until now. Now that there's an action-overload in my life, I know it isn't for the right reasons. This is not the way an exciting life should be.
Chapter 11: Marina
"District Three," says the brown-eyed girl from District Two, "They want to see you."
I feel a shiver run down my spine, because I know who she means by "they." We all do. It's the Gamemakers. I watch to two small tributes from District Three rise from their seats and enter the hallway to the training gym.
"We're next," I mouth to Caleb. He gives my hand a squeeze. Being from District Four, our private sessions where we are graded on our skills will be next, and I have never felt more nervous in my life. Not even for every reaping I've ever been to.
Every tribute has about fifteen minutes to show the Gamemakers what incredible skills they have to offer. Then a few hours later after the Gamemakers have complied their notes together, they assign each tribute a score that is an estimate of roughly how well they would fare in the arena. Basically, it is starting place for the betting and sponsoring. The highest you can get is a twelve, but I can't even remember the last time anyone's gotten that. Usually, the strongest tributes score between an eight and an eleven, the latter being very rare. I am hoping for just a seven or a six to squeeze by, I'll be lucky for an eight. Honestly, I'm no tremendous athlete like that girl from District One or the boy from District Five. I'm sure Caleb will get a really high score, though. He knows so much about weapons and combat.
These thoughts run through my head like lighting bouncing from cloud to cloud. It takes me a moment to see that my hands are shaking. "Hey," says Caleb, placing a hand on mine, "Relax. You are going to do fine. Remember what Mags said."
I nod, still in my nervous trance. Knives, knives, knives. You must use the knives, just like targeting fish in a river, aim, point, and throw. You can do this! You can so do this!
I think in my head. I close my eyes and pretend it's just another day fishing with Caleb. I'd be packing my knives and lunch up in a backpack by now back home. Caleb would get his nets. I'd kiss mom and Gracie goodbye and we'd head off to the stream that comes in from the ocean at high tide. We'd be seen out by the rushing water wielding knives as casting nets at the swimming fish in the stream at dawn. By the afternoon, we could sell the fish to the market, or keep them for our week's food supply. Usually, we do a little of both. How I long for home now, in a cold room waiting in anxiousness surrounded by unfamiliar faces. But Caleb is here, I remind myself of my biggest, but most comforting problem of all.
"District Four?" calls the small black haired boy from District Three, "You have been requested," He says formally.
I feel my legs stand up, my back arch so I am standing tall, and my feet move me to the hallway. "Good luck, Caleb," I whisper as my brother is about to enter the gym. He nods, his face colorless, "You too," he replies before walking in.
Good, I'll need it.
Chapter 12: Caleb
I stare blankly at the Gamemakers in their robes, as they look at me expectantly. But instead of beginning, I just stand there, frozen with anxiety. Finally, the Head Gamemaker gives a polite nod of his head, breaking the awkward silence, and gesturing for me to begin. I clear my throat. Weapons, weapons, weapons. I remind myself.
I walk over to the station with various types of weapons for hunting. My hands close around a spear. Perfect. This I can use! I think to myself. I set up various practice dummies at distances away from me. I hit them between the eyes each time. Then, I start moving the dummies into hard to reach places, like behind the weightlifting station and in between tables set up along the wall. I have the same outcome as before, right between the eyes.
After five minutes using the spear, I look up at the Gamemakers. They are watching intently. Some are nodding their heads in approval, while others are scribbling something down in notebooks. I take a deep breath. Now what? I walk over to weight lifting and give it a shot. After our experience the other day, Marina and I both found out we have great upper body muscular strength due to years of hauling in huge nets and fishing and wielding knives and spears. I lift some heavy objects and show how my physical strength will be one of my assets.
Finally, with only a little while left in my private session, I decide it's time to show off my best skills. I request a capitol person to practice with, and feel ready when a muscular boy about two years older than me approaches wearing protective gear. No problem, I can't help but smirk. In just a few short seconds, I have the boy pinned to the ground in an inescapable position. The Gamemakers get to see the true extent of my wrestling abilities and physical dominance in the next few people I practice with, and take down. I do wrestling at school and for fun too, winning competitions and trophies for the team. I couldn't be more thankful for my skills now!
"Thank you Caleb Alekson, your private session has come to an end. You may now be dismissed and summon the girl tribute from your District," says the Head Gamemaker after I wrestle the fifth boy to the ground.
"Thank you for your time," I nod, sweating as I walk out of the training gym door.
"Marina!" I call to my sister down the hall.
"Caleb! How was it? How did you do? Do you think you got a high score?" She grabs my arms nervously.
"Yes, I mean I think I did well. Look, we don't have a lot of time to talk, but I just wanted to tell you something. When you're in there, focus not on them, not on the weapons, not on anyone but yourself, and showcase your strengths."
"Knives," Marina says.
"Knives," I nod, as my sister makes her way down the hallway to the gym.
As I wait for Marina's session to end in the waiting room, I think about my own private training experience. Were they impressed? I really did do my best. Gwen always says, "Your best is the only thing you can be." I remember the first time we kissed was after my wrestling tournament. I brought our team the trophy, and after my winning fight, she ran up into the ring and kissed me right there, in front of everyone while I held up the trophy and my friends chanted my name in their victory cheer. I remember that night only less than a year ago. I wonder what's she's doing now. Gwen… as I ponder my situation all I can think of is how proud she would be of me, no matter what score I get.
Chapter 13: Marina
I clench my fists and push my chin up in mock confidence, trying to fool myself into thinking I'm not nervous. Maybe if I look strong, I will actually believe I am. Time seems to slow down as I push open the door to the training gym. I am strong, I am brave, I can do this. Yeah, right.
"You may proceed, Miss Alekson," says the head Gamemaker, watching me intently. Only I can't. I find myself frozen. I can hardly move a muscle, and the only thing I can do is breathe. I need to stop staring at the Gamemakers before I start hyperventilating. When I finally avert my gaze, I take a moment to collect myself, and locate the knife-throwing station across the large room. One Gamemaker clears his throat, waiting for me to begin.
My steps echo sounding a lot louder than they are, and making me self-conscious as I approach the knives. There are so many different kinds, some with serrated blades, and some with curved blades. Others have thick handles while some hardly have handles at all. As I grab a long wooden handled blade with a serrated edge, similar to the ones I use to spear fish at home, I notice my hands are shaking. What if I don't throw straight? Nonsense, I've been doing this my whole life.
Smack! My first knife hits the bull's eye right in the center circle. Then I hit the bull's eye again and again and again, getting the same results. I realize simple set targets will not be enough. I have to get creative. I smirk, gaining confidence, but not risking a glance at the Gamemakers. I just can't handle that yet. I walk over to the practice dummies used for archery and knife-throwing. I hit it everywhere that would guarantee death, the head, the face, the heart etc. When I finish the dummy, I decide to try something new. It's a risk, I'll admit, but maybe that's just what I need to catch their attention.
Above my head, hanging from the ceiling are many sets of hanging lights in glass cases. I draw in a deep breath, then grab about ten knives and take out the individual light bulbs beneath the glass one by one, with incredible speed. I do not miss a single one. I lift my head triumphantly, and risk a look at the Gamemakers. They are watching me in their purple robes. Many are staring, eyebrows raised, while others nod. The head Gamemaker sits expressionless. I wonder what he's thinking because he does not look impressed. Perhaps he's upset I destroyed the lights? I bite my lip. My session has not ended. What else can I show them?
I hesitate, but then make my way to the knot-tying station. I've seen my father do this a thousand times, and he even taught me before I could use knives to catch fish. In about three minutes, I have made myself a perfectly good net out of a thin rope. There. Now I have proved that I am not only skilled in wielding weapons, but that I can survive as well. I hold up my net to show the Gamemakers, and after they consider it, the head Gamemaker says, "Thank you, Miss Alekson, you are now free to go."
It takes all my effort not to sprint out of that place crying. I take a moment to steady my emotions. I nod at the Gamemakers as I exit the room, not even risking speech. As I close the door behind me and find myself trapped in Caleb's embrace.
"Oh!" I gasp, "You scared me!"
"How did you do? Were you nervous? Tell me you used the knives?" he holds me tight. I wonder if he was really that unsure of me and my skills.
"Caleb, I did fine. I'm fine. Honestly. I used the knives, and made a perfectly good fishing net. Now let's get some lunch, I'm starving."
"I knew you would!" he puts a protective arm around my shoulders, guiding me to the lunch room. It didn't sound like he knew I would. I know he's trying to be encouraging, but for some reason he's really annoying me.
We eat lunch at a table with Districts One and Two. We ate with them yesterday too. I don't really know them, but Caleb likes them well enough. I guess he has better social skills where allies are concerned. The five of them are discussing something about weapons, but I'm not really paying much attention or contributing to the conversation. Even at school Caleb sort of tunes me out when he's with his "popular" group of friends. I'll admit we don't have the perfect relationship, but we get along and care about one another.
All of this is reminding me home. My mother and Gracelyn are probably getting food from Troy and Gwen on Sundays, who were granted permission by the Mayor to fish for our family in our absence. My family can't very well starve to death while my father can't provide for us, and our best friends asked to be the ones to take our place if we ever got reaped. No one ever guessed we both would. My mother will have taken Grace to her job at the market in town. She cooks at the restaurant there. I guess Gracie will go with her now that we aren't there to watch her and take her on fishing trips with us every Sunday. How I miss them! I begin to wonder if I'll ever see them again. As I eat deep in thought, I am brought back to my senses with the feeling that I'm being watched. I turn my head, paranoid, to see the older, black haired girl from District Eight staring at me. She smiles. It's so rare for anyone to show me kindness here in the Capitol where I'm being prepared for slaughter, so I smile back. Maybe Caleb isn't the only one who can make allies.
Chapter 14: Caleb
I hold my breath as the screen comes to live. Marina, Mags, Tigris, Mason, and Kellie are beside us. We have already explained to them how the private sessions went, and now we wait anxiously await the results, our training scores. I am confident I may get a seven or an eight because while I may not have impressed them, I definitely showed I'm not weak. That should be enough for a good score, right? I bet Marina will do well, though. She has incredible aim with those knives and she also constructed a whole fishing net! I hope she gets an eight at least.
They begin to show pictures of each tribute and underneath that a number between one and twelve: one being extremely low and twelve being unrealistically high. The boy from District One gets a seven, but the girl comes up with a ten, which doesn't surprise me. In addition her beauty, she is incredibly strong and I've never seen anyone run so fast. The boy and girl from District Two both get an eight. I saw them throwing spears and fencing at training. The tributes from Three get a six and a five. Nothing special really. Then the room gets so quiet you could hear a pin drop, and then I'm seeing my face on the television and underneath that the number ten.
"Oh my!" Kellie smiles. Everyone is laughing and hollering and congratulating me, but I can hardly believe it! A ten? No way! But then Mags shushes everyone and we refocus our eyes on the screen to see my sister's score. She's holding her breath, not moving a muscle.
Nine. That's what we see. Marina is so filled with joy that I think she might cry. She'd never admit it, but I think Marina was really nervous about this. Everyone starts celebrating again. We've both done extremely well, beyond our wildest dreams. I'm hugging my sister and she says, "I knew it! I knew you'd do amazing."
"I knew you would too!" we're both laughing with relief for another moment, until we return our attention to the screen to see how our competitors have done. We missed the score for the girl from District Five in our momentary celebration, but we are watching when the number eleven flashes beneath the picture of the boy.
"Wow," Marina whispers. I am thinking the same thing. "Looks like someone outscored you in training, Caleb." She smirks.
"Oh shut up," I say, but I'm smiling.
A couple more scores register as memorable. The Tribute boy from Six only scores a three. The tributes from Seven are both mediocre. But the Tribute girl from District Eight comes up with a nine. I wonder what she showed the Gamemakers. This sparks some interest in my sister. Is she considering this girl as an ally?
"Caleb," she asks, "What's her name?"
"I think it's Amber. At least that's what Sapphire told us," I tell her.
"Oh, Amber's a pretty name." she considers this, "Sapphire? What kind of a name is that?"
"She's the girl from District One. We eat lunch with her? Haven't you been paying any attention at all?" I meant that only as a joke.
"Sorry if I haven't been very friendly to people that will be hunting me down to kill me in a matter of days!" Marina snaps.
I don't even answer that. I have a bit of a temper, and she's only making me angry. I turn my attention back to the television. The two twelve year olds from Ten get sixes and the others from Eleven and Twelve get scores between four and seven.
At the end of the night I have scored a ten which is incredible. I still can't believe it! I may really stand a chance in these games. I may be able to stick around and be there for Marina. Although the closer and closer we get to the games, the more and more I am considering Gwen's suggestion. Maybe we should split up, try to forget the other, and just work on our own. Perhaps that is the only way. I look at my sister who appears to be deep in thought. Maybe she's thinking the same thing. Suddenly, her sea green eyes meet mine, and I am reminded I could not leave her alone. Ever. But the thought of separating lingers in the back of my mind, as it has ever since Gwen kissed me goodbye.
Chapter 15: Marina
I roll out of bed the next morning exhausted, as if I got no sleep at all. By the look of the rising sun outside my thick glass window, it must be at least six AM. Tonight are the individual interviews that will be broadcast live to every citizen of Panem, with a live audience in the Capitol as well. I am so not ready for this. If I was nervous at the training center, it in no way competes with the stage fright I'll have tonight. I don't like being judged, especially by large groups of people. I am easily self-conscious, and public speaking makes me want to vomit. Doesn't my personal interview in the city square of the Capitol surrounded by thousands of people sound like my dream come true? Yeah, that's what I thought.
I get into the shower and program it to be scalding hot. That really wakes me up. Then I am bathed in a foamy soap that smells of strawberries, and my hair is conditioned with a creamy substance. By the time I am out and dressed, it's got to be seven o' clock. But I am clean and much more awake than I was before. I feel slightly more ready for whatever the day brings.
Breakfast consists of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, some warm rolls of bread, eggs, bacon, sausage, and even pancakes, which is a luxury I have never tried before. I eat in silence with my brother, our stylists, Mags, and Kellie.
"So," Mags begins, "Today we'll be practicing for your interviews and how you must present yourselves." My stomach does a little flip-flop.
"I will have you for say, three hours at least to work on presentation, and Mags will have you for about the same time to work on your angles."
"Our angles?" Caleb asks between bites of eggs and bacon.
"Yes, what angle you'll be playing for your sponsors. With training scores like you both got, I can ensure you will have some. But we can deal with that later. First, I've got to ask, is there any reason I should train you separately?" We both shake our heads. What reason would there be? "Good," Mags continues, "And is there anything I should know before we start this process? Something that will get in the way of success?"
I think about telling her about my paralyzing nerves, but then rule it out. I guess I'll have to deal with it myself. "Oh. Marina's terrified of public speaking and being in front of large groups of people." Caleb says matter-of-factly, "Here for ya sis." He smiles and elbows me. So much for handling it on my own.
Mags sighs, "Well, what can we do about that?"
I shrug, "I don't really know. I guess I'll be fine in the moment." Caleb starts to laugh, then stops. He's right though, that's wishful thinking.
"Clearly not," Kellie adds.
"Maybe once you are better trained you will be able to look past your nerves because you'll know what to say," suggests Tigris.
I nod. It's possible, though unlikely. "Fine, that's enough for now. Let's go back to the Lounge room to work on strategies," Mags gestures for us to follow her out the door, and we do.
Caleb, Mags, and I settle down on the couches in the room where we watched the training scores last night to discuss how we will be acting for the interviews.
"So," Mags begins, "We need to find out how the audience and your sponsors should view you. What is going to make you appealing?"
"Well, I know I can't be anything forgettable. I don't want to be shy or quiet or weak or something like that. That's just not me," says Caleb. I agree. Caleb hasn't been shy a day in his life.
"Let's try strong," suggests Mags.
After some question and answer, it is clear that strong may be okay for someone like the boy from District Five, but Caleb needs to use more personality, because he has it. Then they try funny, but that's not really him. After, they try cocky, likable, serious, and calm. Nothing's right. "How about brave?" I ask.
In a few minutes of practice it is clear that this is the perfect angle for my brother. He is relatable, personable, but a survivor. He seems strong, but not over the top. This is Caleb.
"What about you?" Mags nods at me.
"I don't know. I'm not very good with people, not like him." I look at Caleb.
"That's not true," says Caleb, "She's very good with people she trusts."
"Which is few," I add.
"Which is few." he admits quietly.
"I got it," Mags snaps her fingers, listening to our conversation. We look at her expectantly, "Independent, Elusive, Mysterious. Act like the girl no one knows anything about. The one who everyone wishes they knew. Keep the audience on their toes. Be unpredictable."
It sounds possible. Tigris said the same thing. Mysterious. Am I that interesting? Really? I don't know, but I give it a shot. We practice for about an hour, and it's clear even to me and my nervous self that Mags chose the right angle for me. I play secretive and strong pretty well. As our practice session comes to close I have one thought. Maybe I won't mess up too badly tonight. Hopefully.
Chapter 16: Caleb
"Relax. You are going to do fine. Deep breaths," I tell my sister, but as I place my hands on her shoulders, I can feel that she's shaking. "Well if you can't speak you're still going to look amazing." I glance at her dress.
"Thanks," Marina gives me a weak smile, "I feel like I'm wearing the sea." It looks like she's wearing the sea because her dress is made of this shiny, but flowing fabric that is white at the tips but colored green, blue, and navy blue and patterned like the waves. It makes me think of home. She's also wearing this shell necklace and headdress that makes her look mystical, like some fantastic creature that might live beneath the waves. Her hair is down and curly, in perfect little spirals down her back.
"You'll be just fine out there. Remember what Mags said. Be mysterious, sly, and unpredictable. You can do it, I know you can."
"Right," she sighs, "And you just…be you. Be brave and strong and friendly. Be Caleb."
Before I have the chance to answer, we are ushered onto the stage and sit in the order of our Districts, the girl preceding the boy. I sit down in between Marina and the small, freckled girl from District Five. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I can't say I'm not nervous too, but I have to pretend I'm not, for Marina. Someone's got to be strong for her.
Today we spent four hours working with Kellie and her idea of "proper manners and etiquette." She made my sister walk in these huge heels and a long dress. Then she made me practice being a "perfect gentlemen." I had to learn how to bow and address a crowd, and really, it was too much. I'm sick of being prepared for slaughter. The more we learn, the more sickening this is. I'm really beginning to feel like the Capitol's puppet, the closer we get to the games. I just wish this was all over and I was back by our stream, fishing like always. But of course I could never say that.
Then I turn my attention to the left side of the stage where Caesar Flickerman is starting the program by welcoming the crowd and addressing the audience. His hair is colored turquoise for the 62nd Hunger Games, but the color changes every year. Last year it was deep purple and now it's aqua. There's something I will never understand about these Capitol people and their vanity. I watch from my seat as Caesar calls up Sapphire, signaling that the three minute interviews will now begin. Her hair is dark blonde and flows to her waist, and her bright blue-gray eyes sparkle against her dress which appears to be made out of tiny sapphire gem stones. I give her a thumbs up as she makes her way up to the center of the stage. She winks. I remember all the people we ate lunch with. I got along with everyone just fine. I don't get why Marina doesn't like them, they all seem pretty cool. I think she's only overreacting due to the fact she doesn't like trusting people right away, especially since we'll all be in an arena together soon.
Six minutes goes by so slowly, but soon District Two is preparing their interviews, starting with Natasha, one of the girls we eat lunch with. She's dressed in a low-cut lace-up top that goes down to her thighs and black leggings with tall, brown lace-up boots. Her shoulder-length brown hair is curled off her face and she's wearing these long fake eyelashes. She looks sexy, but fierce. I guess that's her strategy, and she's good at it. After comes Derek, the guy from her District. He seems quiet and strong, in his own way. Another six minutes has gone by and District Three is up next. The girl must be about fifteen or so. She's pretty short and wears thin rimmed black glasses. During her interview all I can tell about her is that she seems very intelligent. The boy's interview is utterly forgettable; honestly I don't even remember what he said. Something about strategy? I don't know.
I take a deep breath, trying to give my sister positive energy in whatever way I can. I know she's probably insurmountably nervous right now. I can only imagine. Although without even the slightest hesitation, Marina rises and I can hear the clacking of her heels perfectly on the stage floor as she walks. With confidence, she holds her head up high and the train on her dress flows in little waves behind her. I squeeze her hand for reassurance as she walks by, but she doesn't even acknowledge me or my presence, only stares straight ahead and takes her place next to Caesar Flickerman. What has gotten into her? I hold my breath as she starts her interview. And the girl she becomes is someone I have never seen before, and I am blown away. Where is Marina Alekson and what have you done with her?
Chapter 17: Marina
"So Marina," says Caesar, "What did you feel at the reaping when your name was called?"
"I don't know. Have you ever had a moment, just a single moment where your whole life changed in an instant?" I say very slowly, and I can feel the audience grow quieter, listening to my words.
"I suppose," he says.
"Well my world turned upside down in that one second. I closed my eyes, and I accepted my fate."
"Fate is something everyone has, Caesar." I say it as if it would be impossible for him not to know this, "It takes a strong soul to accept your own fate, no matter how hard it may be. When Caleb, my own brother was called, I had to realize my fate was unpredictable, and subject to change very much in the next month. And I accepted that nothing would ever be the same again." The crowd is dead silent now, except for the occasional sigh.
"That's incredible thinking, Marina. I'm sure your brother is proud of you no matter what happens." The cameras focus on Caleb for a moment, but then are directed back to me. "So now that the two of you will be together in the arena, I'm sure you plan on sticking together."
I consider this, and think of how a mysterious person would answer, "That is what one would assume, isn't it?" I pause, "My brother and I are very different people Caesar. And you can think of that however you want to, but we are here to protect each other. For sure. That's what we do. Protect."
"I think this is a first for everyone, having a brother and sister in the games. Tragic." Several people are weeping in the audience.
"Life is whatever you want it to be, Caesar. Sometimes pain and tragedy are what makes up a person's life. Sometimes joy and happiness are more prominent. But however you look at a situation can define who you are. It is your whole being."
"That's truly amazing, that you can be this way after all that's happened to you." There is a huge response from the audience now, people are clapping and hollering for me, and I can tell I have kept them interested. "Now tell us what your plans in the arena are, hmm?"
"My plans?" I give a sly chuckle, and then squint my eyes, suddenly very serious, "I trust very few people Caesar, and it is hard to win my trust. Very." There is dead silence, and I'm worried people will be able to hear my heart beating. I blink slowly. "But no matter who I trust or not, everyone should know that I am a force to be reckoned with. My life, my struggles, my hardships make me who I am. And I am anything but ordinary. As I said before, how you look at a situation defines who you are and who you can be. Let everyone know who I am and what I will do!" Caesar looks at me expectantly, "Here it's easier to ask what I won't do. I won't go down without a fight! I won't give up. I won't play the games by anyone's rules but my own, and most importantly I won't become someone I'm not. So don't count me out. Ever." I take a deep breath in, startling myself by what I've just said. The crowd is silent. Even Caesar takes a moment to respond.
"It would be very hard to doubt you Marina. I think everyone here today can say you're a very special individual."
"Believe me, Caesar, my life is worth so much to me. It is who I am. It is what I was given. And I am not weak! And nothing will make me become some weakling I am not and never will be. I can ensure everyone here in the Capitol and in the Districts and my fellow competitors, you don't know me, and some of you may not want to, but I am a fighter, a believer, and a survivor." Huge applause. Everyone is cheering my name and hollering and it's chaos out there. "Thank you." I say quietly as my buzzer goes off, signaling the end of my interview. I whip my hair behind my face before returning to my seat, my dress flowing mystically behind me like the ripple of the waves.
Chapter 18: Caleb
As Marina takes her seat, I really can't help gaping at her. Where did that come from? Honestly, I have never, ever seen that side of her. For a nervous wreck in front of people, she sure has a way with the crowd! The Capitol audience is still shouting, clapping, and hollering with excitement long after my sister has taken her seat. It seems that she is a favorite already. Then I am being called after the crowd has finally calmed down, and I feel a hint of nervousness shudder down my spine. Still, I proceed.
"Hello, Caleb," says Caesar Flickerman whose strange appearance really gives me the creeps.
"Hi Caesar," I reply. We start off talking a bit about strategies and telling a few jokes about the price of the Cornucopia, which is made of pure gold, I hear. Finally, he gets to the part the capitol audience really wants to hear.
"So we understand Marina Alekson is your sister. What is it like having her here with you?"
"It's horrifying. I mean, I know in a matter of days we could both be dead. My own sister could be killed here beside me in less than a week. That's frightening. But I know I must do what a good brother does. I'll stop at nothing to protect her."
"Die for her even?" Caesar asks quietly as the crowd grows silent.
"Yes," I answer without hesitation, "Even that, because I know my death means her survival." I lock eyes with my twin, and I see that she looks miserable with a few tears silently sliding down her cheeks. She shakes her head at me. "Yes," I say again more firmly, "Marina's survival is my final promise to the world." I lower my gaze. I can't believe I'm being so open with the entire country watching live. Even President Snow. Even Head Gamemaker Zane Tanner. I take a deep breath.
"Those are brave words, Caleb. I think I can honestly say on behalf of everyone here tonight, we wish you the best of luck."
I nod. "I have confidence in myself and my sister. I can bet we'll make it to the final few tributes because we don't give up," I proclaim enthusiastically, "And if something happens to her, I will win for the both of us, you can count on that." The audience cheers and I start gaining confidence. Maybe we have made a splash, as Kellie would put it. Maybe we haven't gone unnoticed in the sea of tributes and their interviews tonight. With our training scores, and now the interviews, maybe we won't be on our own in that arena full of horrors. Maybe we'll have some sponsors…
The buzzer brings me back to my senses, signaling the end of my interview. Is it really over? Was that really three minutes? Dazed, I walk back to my seat. As soon as I sit down, my sister grabs my hand instinctively, her eyes dry now. I nod to her, and she squeezes my hand approvingly. But I know in some weird twin way she's trying to tell me, We did it.
I pretty much zone out for half of the next few interviews, but a few things catch my eye. The enormous boy from District Five, proclaiming his strength and domination, cocky and merciless. Amber from District Eight looking tall and elegant with her flowing purple dress smooth against her dark tan nearly brown skin, quiet, kind, and fierce. The two twelve year olds from Ten, looking small and helpless, despite their stylists efforts to make them look strong. It is clear they have never had enough to eat. And finally, the blaring of the anthem in the speakers indicating the end of the program.
Hand in hand, Marina and I make our way to a car and into the training center, the very image of bravery and success, the way a brother and sister should be. I hold onto the moment, feeling the pressure of love and friendship between us. I savor it, even, and try my best not to think of the number of moments like this the two of us have left.
Chapter 19: Marina
"Will we see you tomorrow?" I ask Mags as we prepare to depart for bed.
"No," she says solemnly, "Tomorrow… you'll be on your own."
"Oh," Caleb says softly, "So this is goodbye."
Mags nods, her face grave and her eyebrows creased in distress.
"Mags," I begin, "Thank you. Thank you for everything you've done for us. We could never have gotten where we are without you. Now that we knew you, I can say we may have a chance. One of us may be able to come home. Because of you." I look down, willing myself not to get emotional. I'm not usually like this, not at all. This night has really taken its toll on the Marina I used to be. But never before have I had to ask myself, Who am I? Until now, it seems.
Mags surprises both my brother and me when she opens her arms. Feeling her gentle embrace, a pang of sadness strikes my heart like a spear, reminding me of how much I miss my own mother, and her gentle touch. But thinking of family so far away won't help me now. Finally, Caleb says, "Thanks Mags, we won't forget you in that arena."
Mags nods, once again serious. "Good luck in there. You'll need it. Be careful at the Cornucopia. Remember to stay on your plate, and the rest of your strategy is really up to you. Be strong, you two."
And with that, Caleb and I walk back to our rooms, feeling empty and even a little lonely despite the fact that we have each other. "'Night Caleb," I say once I'm at the door to my room. He nods and turns to his door across the hall. I stand in the doorway, watching him leave thinking of our future and nothing else. Finally, the door closes behind my brother, and I walk into my own room, utterly depressed. How did such a good night become such a bad one? Not that any night or day has truly been good since we stood on that stage at the reaping so many days ago back home. I think of Grace, my mother, Troy, my father, Annie, and everyone I left behind. Will I ever see them again?
Quickly, I change into my pajamas, and stare at my bed. For some reason, I can't bring myself to lie down. I sigh, and shut my eyes, trying to clear my head. Fear washes over me when I remember despite my efforts that Caleb and I will be thrown into an arena tomorrow whether we like it or not. I bite my lip, feeling my hands start to shake like they do when I stand up in front of crowds. Relax, relax, I tell myself, Maybe I should go talk to Caleb. I'm scared.
I'm halfway to the door when I stop and realize something. Since the reaping, or maybe even since forever, I have been relying on Caleb to be the strong one, to protect me and take care of me. What have I ever done for him? Nothing besides make his life more complicated. I sigh, and finally sit down on my bed. No. I can't drag Caleb into my problems now. I'll just go to sleep and pretend I'm at home. And tomorrow, I'll clear out. Leave Caleb with his allies, and run far away from him. If he's going to win, for once in my life, I won't get in his way. I'll be the strong one. I turn around swiftly as a knock on my door disrupts my train of thought. Who could that possibly be?
"Hi," Caleb says awkwardly, standing in the doorway of my room. I'm confused. Why did he come here?
"Umm, hi. Come in, Caleb." I shut the door behind us, and Caleb sits uncomfortably on my bed, "So what did you-"
I don't get to finish because in the next moment Caleb is on his feet, grabbing me tightly in his arms, holding me close, protectively as if he can shut away the dangers that await us tomorrow and keep us safe. "I'm scared," he barely whispers.
"Me too," I shut my eyes tightly and rest my head on my brother's shoulder, the way I used to with my father. Before he left.
"Marina," I feel a drop on my shoulder, "What are we going to do?"
"I don't know," I mumble to myself, trying desperately not to cry, "I really don't know."
Chapter 20: Caleb
The first things I feel are my senses coming alive. I smell burning wood, like a campfire only much less pleasant. I hear a sort of slithering noise that makes me shudder, and a long howl, not unlike that of a wolf. I feel a firm metal circle underneath my feet, and something in the back of my mind tells me not to step off of it; instinct, I suppose. I swallow, and my mouth is dry. I can tell I'm nervous and I do know why, but for some reason I can't remember it exactly until I open my eyes. And I see Marina. And Sapphire, and Amber, and Derek, and Natasha, and every other tribute I've practiced with this past week. Then I see my surroundings. Lava. Everywhere. We are standing in a volcano. This must be the arena! Suddenly alert, I lock eyes with my sister. She tries to take a step towards me I think, and she mouths my name, but I can't hear her over the sound of the howling. It was wolves in the distance. My sister struggles again to reach me her left foot inching slightly over the edge of her metal plate. And to my horror, I watch her get blown to bits, and hear Sapphire's shrill laughter echoing in my ears like a reminder of my failure.
I bolt upright in my bed, gasping for breath and sweating. My hands are clenched into fists at my sides. Slowly, I release them and see blood where my fingernails dug into my palms, shredding the skin like paper. By the look of the sun through my window, it's probably six thirty or seven. How much sleep did I get? Five hours? Six? I spent most of the night tossing and turning, wide awake and full or fear, contemplating what tomorrow, actually today, would bring. Face it, I tell myself, you and Marina could be dead in less than four hours!
I shudder, pushing the thought to the back of my mind where it lingers. I program my shower to be scalding hot, hoping to burn away my nightmares and fears. I stand underneath the boiling waterfall for at least a half an hour, wishing it were the salt water at home Gwen and I swim in on Saturdays. Wishing it were that same water Marina and I fish from every morning at seven. Wishing it tasted of home, rather than of these strange Capitol contraptions and their nonsense. I dress quickly, forcing myself to focus on mundane tasks like combing my wavy red hair or tying my shoes rather than let my nerves control me.
I guess it must be around seven thirty or so when I open my door and decide I should head down to the dining hall where I'll be meeting Mason to board the hovercraft. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, still standing in the doorway of my room, facing the hallway. I tell myself to relax, and concentrate on nothing but what's happening in the moment, not thinking of the perils that await my future. I don't even hear the door open across the hall, or the footsteps either. In fact, I don't even know she's there until she stops in front my face and says, "Ahem. You catching up on some sleep there Caleb?" I turn to see Marina grinning at me like she caught me stealing candies from Grace's secret box under her bed. She sure is resourceful for a three year old.
"If anyone should be sleeping it's you. You look awful. Honestly, did you get even an hour's worth of sleep last night?"
Her foolish grin fades as she shakes her head. There is a long pause. "We should go." Marina chokes out, her voice tight with sadness. I nod solemnly, and we make our way down to the dining hall. There are rolls on the table in a decorative basket and I feel my stomach rumble. I realize I haven't eaten since lunch yesterday. I hardly picked at my food before the interview. I am about to snatch a crispy crescent shaped roll when Mason comes up next to us and ushers me away. "Not now," he says," you can eat on the hovercraft, come on."
"But I have- I have to say goodbye to her." I point at my sister walking the other way with Tigris.
Before he can reply, I race back to the dining hall and nudge my sister on the sleeve.
She turns around, abruptly knocking into the wall. "Ow! I thought you left!"
"I wouldn't leave without saying goodbye!"
"Right," she smirks, "You know I'll see you in two hours, though…"
I shake my head, my eyes saying, It won't be the same. You know it won't. Marina nods gravely, her expression now serious. I squeeze her hand tightly as she lets Tigris lead her away from me and down the hall.
A few minutes later, I step onto the ladder and feel a sudden current run through me, and I am immobilized. Struggling is pointless; I can't move a muscle in my body. A doctor walks in wearing a white coat and holding a syringe. If I could squirm, I would. I hate needles. "Don't worry, Caleb," she says, "It's just your tracker so we can locate you once the Games begin." I feel a sharp pain in my forearm, and then I see a lump beneath the surface of the skin. Finally, the doctor leaves and Mason and I are pulled up into the hovercraft.
I've never ridden in a hovercraft before, but it moves quite fast, faster than the speed of the tribute train. Once inside, my stylist and I are silent. I can't think of anything to say, really. The ride lasts about fifteen minutes, and then we are dropped off in an underground launch room beneath the Arena itself. The room is neatly furnished and quite elegant, even if it is only going to be used once. Mason gives me the clothes that will be worn in the Arena: a thin brown t-shirt made of a synthetic material, light weight black pants that cut off at my calves, a dark green sweat shirt that pulls over my head with several pockets, and sturdy brown boots that zipper up. "Everything fits?" asks Mason, pulling down the sleeve of my sweat shirt.
I walk around the room, run even, to test it out. "It feels fine." I nod. Then we sit down on the couch and I pretty much devour two rolls, some grapes, a leg of chicken in a creamy sauce, and a dish of rice. I was starving anyway. Then Mason pulls something silver out of his pocket along with a long needle. Gwen's earring. I actually forgot about that. "Do it," I grit my teeth, dreading the needle. Marina's right. I'll hate this. Then, Mason takes some ice from his water cup and presses it against my left earlobe, numbing it slightly. I bite my cheek hard as the needle goes into my ear, followed by the earring, and I clench my fists, reopening the wounds from last night. I feel a little dizzy and touch my ear. Sure enough there's the little fish shape made of cool, smooth metal brushing my fingertips, much like Gwen's own cool touch. "Thanks," I say.
"It's time," Mason nods towards the metal plate dropping down to the clear glass doorway. As I reach the edge, the glass door opens. "Good luck in there, Caleb. We'll all be cheering for you and Marina. You can do this."
I close my eyes and step forward onto the metal plate, similar to the one in my nightmares. I nod at Mason, a nod of gratitude and farewell. The glass door shuts between us and my stomach drops to my toes as my metal plate shoots skyward.
Chapter 21: Marina (Day 1)
I blink at the sight before me, suddenly focused not on my shaking hands but on my surroundings. I must make use of the sixty seconds we are frozen to our metal plates to think of my strategy, and make a note of where we are. The first thing that registers is the golden Cornucopia, and the supplies littered around it, the most useful inside it. Then I see the gray sky, gray not with storm clouds but with fog, and it reminds me of how Troy's eyes look when he's sad…how they looked in the Justice Building…
I can't think of that now, I can't. Instead I focus my eyes on the tall, swooping dark greenish-brown grass around me, reaching nearly to my chest. It goes on as far as the eye can see in front of me, dropping and snaking its way into rolling hills and long valleys. It would be very easy to get lost in there. I turn to look to my left and right, and I see a long river that rushes from snowcapped mountains I see all the way to my right, and continues on to god knows where on my left. I whip my head around and investigate what lies behind me. I can see tall trees with black looking trunks and dark green spiky leaves. This arena is foreign to me. I have never seen anything like this back home. The only thing that I recognize is the tall grass that is similar to the dune grass we have on the beaches in District Four. Other than that, I am lost. I reach up to my neck and feel Troy's ring with the bit of water from home hanging on its chain. I bite my lip. Where do I go? Help.
I examine the contents on the ground by the Cornucopia. I spot a black backpack not too far from where I stand, and a little further down the way a whole set of knives! I need those! I really, really need them. That could mean my survival on this foreign landscape! If I sprint there the second the gong sounds, grab the knives, the backpack, duck in the grass, and follow the river upstream, I could be gone in moments. I could just leave and be unharmed. I position my feet to run. Towards the knives, the pack, and survival. But I know I'm forgetting something, someone. Caleb. My mind races as I see him standing there on his metal plate, dark red hair blazing. My plan was so perfect. I bite my lip so hard I almost draw blood and stop myself. No. really I would just endanger him, not protect him. I would make his life more difficult in the arena. I wouldn't be doing any favors. Blinking sadly, I make my choice and release my gaze on my brother, once again positioning my feet to sprint for dear life at the Cornucopia. And the gong sounds.
"Let the Sixty-Second Hunger Games Begin!" booms Claudius Templesmith.
And I'm running. Faster and faster until my hands have closed around the backpack and I grab the kit of knives tightly in my left hand. I sling the bag over my shoulder and duck under the grass as an arrow whistles over my head. It was Natasha from District Two, already armed and taking out competitors. Sapphire, Natasha, Derek, and the boy from District One have formed an alliance already, all armed and fighting. I duck below the grass, out of range of the weapons and I'm fairly certain out of sight of the other tributes. I know I should be leaving. Now. But I have to see him, because who knows if I ever will again. No matter where I look I can't see Caleb. Where is he? Where is he? My heart is pounding. What if he's dead already? The life gone from his eyes, no pulse in his chest, lying in a bloody heap on the ground. Now I'm really panicking, when I feel a firm hand on my shoulder, scaring me half to death, but also making me stand up straight so the other tributes know my location. I turn to face him, and when I see it's Caleb, I try to run.
"Marina, no! Stop, you can't!" he yells over the sound of the fight.
"Caleb let me go! I have to get out of here now! This isn't safe."
"We need to stick together. I have to protect you!"
"No Caleb. I'll only slow you down! Don't let me do that!" I finally wriggle free of his grasp. I reach up and kiss my brother on the cheek, and before he can stop me, I'm off.
I run and run and run and don't look back. My throat is tight with unreleased tears, and I know I'm on my own. I follow the river for probably about a mile or two when I feel safe enough to take a quick break by the river bank to examine my pack. Opening the largest compartment, I find some beef jerky, three apples, a container of mixed nuts, a packet of small little berries, a filled up water bottle, and a rolled up green blanket made of a thin, water resistant material. In the other smaller pockets, I find a compass and some flint and steel. I open up my package of knives and find six perfectly sharpened weapons, two small with double edged blades, three long with black handles and serrated blades near the handle, and one big knife with a large square blade, similar to the one I use for chopping fish for stew. I wrap the knives in the plastic they came in and put them inside my pack. I take a tiny sip of my water and keep trekking by the river bank. One peek in the clear water, and I can see the trout just waiting to be caught.
I continue on that way through the rest of the afternoon, walking and taking sips of water and watching the fish dart around in the river. A few hours after I escaped I hear twelve cannon shots, indicating that the bloodbath for supplies at the Cornucopia is over, and twelve have not made it past the first day. I sigh sadly, but continue on. Soon enough, I realized it's evening, and the hot sun is setting. I feel sweat trickle down my neck as I know I'll have to camp somewhere for the night, and fast. But the sun is sinking into the horizon, and I haven't got a place safe from the groups of tributes that go hunting at night. Where can I go? I could probably just lie down in the grass and be unseen, plus I'm far enough away that the horn of the Cornucopia is just a gold glimmer in the distance. Somehow, it still seems too risky. I glance across the river. Most tributes can't swim, I think with a half-smile on my face. In this heat, I'll dry in no time, plus I think I can handle the current.
Quickly I take off my clothes until I'm just in my undergarments, and pack them in my bag. I hold that high over my head as I slowly get deeper and deeper in the water until it is chest high. I raise my chin up and extend my arms keeping my pack dry. I take steps forward and I am halfway across. I avoid most of the rapids and am making pretty good progress, when my foot catches on a rock and I plummet into the water, the current I was fighting carrying me rapidly downstream. I gasp for breath, but I'm drenched. At least most of my backpack is spared high above my soaked head. My feet fumble with the slippery stones, getting scratched and bruised all over until I finally place them firmly in a good spot, and drag myself to shore.
I dry off with the blanket, and find it very absorbent. I put on my mostly dry clothes and settle in for the night. I lay on the ground underneath my blanket, using my pack as a pillow. I contemplate taking my boots off, but rule it out if I need to make a speedy escape. I haven't traveled too far downstream, and I still have the river to guide me towards the mountains.
I shiver beneath my blanket, but not because of cold. Because of relief. I am alive, I am safe, and I have a plan. The sky has really darkened now, and I see the stars glowing more brightly than I've ever seen them before. It must be some projection. My breath catches in my throat as I realize tonight they will show the faces of the dead tributes in the sky. Not Caleb. No. I know he's strong enough to make it through the first fight, I know. But I still can't help how my whole body quivers when the anthem blares in the sky as I sit quietly nibbling on some beef jerky. One by one the faces of the dead stare back at me in the sky. The boy from District Three, the girl from District Five. Which means Caleb along with the tribute pairs from Districts One and Two are alive and probably allies, but I knew that. Still, I smile. Both from Six, the girl from seven, the boy from Eight, both from Nine, the girl from Ten, both from Eleven, and the boy from Twelve. And that's that. I sigh as the sensation of sleep presses on my whole being as I drift off thinking, I made it through the first day.
Chapter 22: Caleb (Day 1)
"Come on Caleb!" says Sapphire giggling, "They're going to show the faces soon."
She points up at the sky.
I stare into the flames of the fire. Derek, Natasha, Sapphire, Harrison, and I made camp on the river bank to the left of the Cornucopia. We've got tents, weapons, food, and a fire. And I've got allies. Except the most important ally. The one I should have had all along. How could I let her go like that? I should have stopped her. It was my job to protect her, and I failed. I failed already and it's only the first day. How lame is that? Sapphire sees me rubbing my face in my hands and sits down on the grass next to me in front of the fire. The flames dancing off her creamy skin make her look like some sort of angel, but that only reminds me of Gwen and how she looks at sunset, how she always ties her hair back in a bun, how she always wears two different socks, how she's always beautiful.
"Hey, she says, "You okay?"
"Not too good." I look at the floor.
"Thinking of your sister out there?" she asks.
"More like how I let her go. How could I do that?" I sigh. Why am I telling her this? I barely know this girl. Maybe I just need someone to talk to.
"Look Caleb, she chose to disappear and leave you, not the other way around. Don't beat yourself up. Plus, it's better this way."
"Well you've got allies and a camp and a plan. Relax, it's all going to be fine. Plus, you know she got away and she's unharmed. It's no big deal. If she thought you were better off without her, you probably are. What's her name again? Mariana?"
"Marina," I say quietly.
"Well don't let Marina slow you down," Sapphire tosses her hair behind her and rolls her eyes.
She doesn't understand. None of them do. Maybe because they're so shallow. I don't know, but I don't feel like arguing with her over it. I should be really mad about what she said about my sister, but I'm not. Maybe because she's right. You're better off the two of you working separately, so you don't have to worry about it coming down to the two of you, says a voice in my head. I want to kill that voice, strangle it, and trample on it because part of me believes it too.
We sit in silence, content to watch the flames flicker around the pile of black wood we got from the forest, until the anthem blares loudly in the sky and we are joined by the other three in our pack. We all look up at the sky, wondering if there were any deaths besides those at the bloodbath. I know Marina got away okay, but I still pray with every ounce of my being that she's not staring back at me tonight. They show the boy from District Three, the girl from Five, Both from Six, the girl from seven, the boy from Eight, both from Nine, the girl from Ten, both from Eleven, and the boy from Twelve.
That's it. Only the ones who died in the bloodbath, which I already knew. I didn't kill any of them, I just helped fight, but the others killed a ton and I don't know how they feel about it. Derek even killed that Twelve year old from District Ten, which I could never do, but I keep that to myself. I need to gain the trust of these people because it could mean my survival, and Marina's. They go hunting at night and as one of their group they won't kill her if I'm around. I know Sapphire killed the girl from Five, the boy from Three, and the girl from Nine. Harrison, her district partner, killed the boy from Nine and the boy from Twelve. Natasha killed both from Six, the girl from Seven, and the girl from ten. Derek killed the boy from Ten and the girl from Eleven. The boy from Eight killed the boy from Eleven, but was then killed by the girl from Ten who was taken out by Harrison. it took me a while to work that all out in my head. At least I didn't kill anyone yet, but I know I would have if the opportunity arose during the fight, which I'm not proud of.
"So where are we off to tonight?" Derek asks after the sky goes blank, dark eyes squinting in the light of the fire. He kind of scares me a little. I don't know why but something about him can be very creepy.
"How about to sleep?" I ask.
"Maybe we should make good use of the time and go hunting," suggests Natasha putting her hands on her hips.
"Nah. Redhead's right. We should wait," says Harrison.
"Why wait? What if there are others around the camp hunting us?" Sapphire says.
"Then we set up a guard and switch off. Natasha and I can inspect the area while you three watch the camp. We'll be right back," Derek and Natasha grab spears and head off into the night. I am left with Sapphire and Harrison.
"I'll take the first watch," says Sapphire, "I'm not even tired."
Neither am I, but I don't speak up. Instead I get in a sleeping bag and try to dose off. Within minutes, I know Harrison's asleep, I can hear him, but I can't bring myself to let sleep take me as well. After a while, Sapphire says, "Caleb, you awake?"
"Yeah," I sit up, "What is it? Are they back?"
"Not yet. I was wondering…if maybe I could talk to you…"
"Okay umm sure. What's up?"
"I killed a boy today, Caleb, and two girls without even thinking about it. What kind of person am I?" Sapphire says in a watery voice. It's too dark to tell if she's crying, but I hope not. All the cameras will be trained on our conversation now, and it wouldn't be in her favor if she looked and sounded weak. Still, her words shock me so much, I don't respond for a while.
"It's the Hunger Games, Sapphire, what should you have done?" I try to make things sound better for her, but if I had killed three people, I'd feel the same way.
"I know, I know," she says with a sniffle and doesn't talk again. I fall asleep wondering just what kind of people my allies are.
The next morning I wake up with the dawn, and find that only Sapphire is still asleep, and the others are eating nuts and fruit and berries. I join them and eat quickly, hungry as ever. I realize I never ate anything besides breakfast yesterday, so no wonder I'm famished. When I'm done I look up to see Sapphire is awake and we're all gathered in a sort of circle.
"So what's the plan for today?" I ask.
"We should go looking for tributes or gather some fresh food," says Natasha.
"Let's split up. How about Natasha and I go looking to see if anyone's around, Caleb go fishing because I bet you're good at that, and Sapphire and Harrison guard the camp," Derek suggests.
"No." Sapphire whines like a small child, "I don't wanna stay here! Let me go with Caleb." She grabs my arm somewhat possessively and I feel uncomfortable, as if this wasn't just a friendly gesture. I want to shake her off, but that would just be rude.
"Fine," says Harrison, "Go with him. I'm staying here to make sure we aren't robbed."
Shortly after, I teach Sapphire how to weave, and we sit by the river bank, weaving nets out of rope that she got from the Cornucopia. We can get huge hauls of fish with a proper net. I sit there with Sapphire weaving like I did back home only a little over a week ago. I know it's only the second day here, but I already feel trapped in this arena, as if I've been here a lifetime. I think of Marina and what she's doing now. I hope she's safe, and for the first time, I'm glad we split up, and I understand why. She wouldn't be safe with these people. She'd never trust them, and they'd never trust her. Face it. She was right. We are both safer this way. I know it's my new job to protect her from a distance. Just then, a parachute floats down and lands next to Sapphire. After untying it she says, "It's for you," and hands it to me, blinking.
"But how can you-" and I look inside the wrapping. It's a fish hook.
Chapter 23: Marina (Day 2)
I wake up with the sun's first rays slanting down in the tall grass. I open my eyes, sit up and stretch. I slept fairly well, with a dreamless, undisturbed night. I'm glad I crossed the river because I feel safer on this side, and I feel miles away from trouble. I eat some nuts and a slice of apple, but honestly I'm not too hungry. I walk down to the river and wash my face and hands. I also soak my hair so I can run my fingers through the tangled mess and tie it up with some string. With my red curls out of my face I feel much better and fresher, and ready to be on the move.
I pack up my gear quickly, and take out a knife as I travel upstream, just in case I should run into trouble. It doesn't seem likely though. Today, the fog from yesterday has cleared revealing a brilliant blue sky. I would guess it to be about seventy five degrees. It is mild weather, but after about two hours I break a sweat trekking in the bright sun. I worry that my fair skin will burn, as it easily does if I'm not careful back home, but I shrug it off as if it could possibly matter. I take off my green sweat shirt and roll in up in my pack. I stop for a water break and find myself extremely thirsty. I drink half my bottle in a huge gulp, and then stop myself. I've got to ration this water. Once it runs out I'll face my water problem. It's unsafe to drink fresh water even from a river without purifying it, and I have no way to do that. No wood to make a fire and boil it, no chemical to cleanse it. Nothing.
I keep walking until I'm drenched in sweat, and still the mountains look no closer. I look behind me, but I can't see where I made camp last night, this arena all looks the same. Shaking my head, I whip off my boots and socks and continue walking barefoot in the grass, feeling a lot cooler. I scratch my calf as I walk, but don't look at it. I focus only on the breeze, the water, and where I intend to go. I am aware of a slight tingling sensation on my legs as the cool grass brushes it. Finally, after about four hours of walking since I left earlier this morning, I take a lunch break and sit down by the river. I open my pack and take out a strip of beef jerky and two slices of apple. As I raise the salty meat to my lips I notice my fingers and nails are caked with…blood? Did I scratch myself in my sleep? But no, I would have noticed this before. I feel a drop on my foot and look down. And nearly scream out in terror as I see both of my calves and feet are covered and dripping with blood.
What? How did this happen? Gingerly, I touch my leg and yell out in pain. It really, really hurts. It almost burned when I touched it! I scoot closer to the water and soak my two calves in the rushing stream, feeling instant relief, but I am as confused as ever. How did I not notice my legs being cut up? Or more importantly who or what did this to me? I think back on my day, and then I know. As a test, I reach out behind me and swipe my hand on a blade of tall grass, and I see a thin line of blood on my palm. It's the grass. Every blade is a dagger. And there's some kind of poison in it too, that makes my legs burn. I feel dizzy and I pray to god that this won't affect anything but my legs, but I can tell it will. I can tell already.
Despite the pain, I force on my socks and boots, and every step feels like fire. I eat on my way, but I can hardly remember if I finished or not. All I know is the pain in my legs and what I see right in front of me. After about an hour, I know I can't go much farther. Every step I take I stifle a scream, I feel extremely dizzy, and my face feels red and hot. Something's wrong with me, that I know, but what? And is it enough to kill me? I don't think about the last question, but focus on the first. I think I have a fever, which is a sign that my body is fighting the toxins, and I think my legs and palm have swollen slightly. Before I can think anything else, out of nowhere, the grass starts swooping around me and the ground is spinning. I fall to my knees and vomit in the grass, shaking and shivering like the time I had the flu when I was ten. But this is worse.
I am so vulnerable now, so vulnerable. If someone tried to kill me I couldn't even fight back. I shove my head between my knees, and let the world come back into focus. Slowly, I ignore the pounding in my head, and crawl to the edge of the river. I soak my legs in the water, and my hand too. Then I splash some water on my face as well. I feel a bit better, enough to stand. Can I walk? Yes, if I go very slowly. I only hope that I got whatever it was out of my system. I walk only a little farther, before sitting beside the river and eating more apple slices, nuts, and berries too. The sun is setting, and I know I couldn't walk anymore even if I wanted to. I take out my blanket and collapse on the grassy floor being careful not to let it slice me. I fall asleep almost instantly, missing the faces in the sky, but I'm certain there weren't any deaths today. I plunge into a restless sleep, and I don't even see the silver parachute land beside me.
Chapter 24: Caleb (Day 2)
By the time we get back to camp we have tons of fish wrapped up in the net. Our trip was successful, especially once I got my hands on that fish hook. It's late afternoon I suppose as we return to our camp. The others are still out, and Harrison is asleep on the ground by our fire pit. So much for a guard.
In the next few minutes we have to fire going again, and Sapphire and I gut the fish in silence. Slowly we get into a pattern, grab a fish from the pile, slice off the skin, pull out the bones, cut off the head, scoop out the guts, put it in a new pile, and then grab another fish and so on. Finally all the fish are gutted and ready to be roasted. "I counted sixteen. How many did you have?" I ask Sapphire.
"That means we've got twenty-eight in all. That'll be good for a while. Thanks for helping out. I know gutting fish isn't your idea of a good time," I chuckle, "Or mine."
"That's okay Caleb. It's better than hunting with the others…plus," she starts moving towards me, flipping her dark blonde hair behind her shoulder, "It was nice spending time-" she's barely six inches away from me now, and I start to pull away. This is wrong. I should have guessed she would get like this this morning when she grabbed my arm. But before I get to say a word, she glances over my shoulder, and her eyes widen. She gives a little gasp that turns into a squeak. I turn around hastily, and then see what she saw.
Harrison is most definitely not asleep. The back of his head is covered in blood, but we didn't see it until close up. The shocking sight has me frozen for a moment, but then we both run to his side and inspect the wounds. Sapphire places a hand on his neck and nods to me. I understand immediately, he is alive, but unconscious. Besides the head wound, he seems to be unscathed elsewhere. Just a couple of punches to the face and of course that horrifying blood fountain in his scalp. "Who could have done this to him?" Sapphire says, gently holding the younger boy's head in her hands.
"I don't know, but whoever it was could be coming back."
"I don't think so," Sapphire says gravely, looking down into a patch of grass.
Before saying anything, I look down at the spot she has her eyes glued to. "Oh," I barely whisper. Crumpled in the grass blades is another body, only this one is even worse. They must have gotten in a fight, but despite the shape he's in, Harrison definitely won. Turning the boy over, I recognize him as the boy from District Seven. There's no way to save him. As if echoing my thoughts, Sapphire says, "I think it's only a matter of time with him…Harrison's another story. We should take him down to the river and see what we can do." I agree, and I check the blonde boy's pulse to be sure, and it's very slow and labored. I predict he'll die soon, and he's lost too much blood for us to save him now.
I look at Sapphire quickly, and then turn my attention away from the boy, and on Harrison. I see the growing pool of blood around his head wound. With that much blood loss, he's next. I realize that we have to take action now. It seems that Sapphire has reached the same conclusion I have. "Come on," she says, "We have to get him out of here."
I nod, and we each take one of Harrison's arms, Sapphire supporting his bleeding head, and drag him to the river bed. "We should clean it," I advise.
We both begin to pour water onto his head, and I just pray he remains unconscious. Fortunately, he was hit hard enough that I don't have to worry about that part. Finally, with all the blood cleared away from his wound and washed out of his matted curly brown hair, I can see where something cut him and made a small indentation on the back of his head. Quickly, we take him back to the camp, where I open up a first aid kit from the Cornucopia and put pressure on the wound to stop the bleeding. Once again, I am grateful he can't feel it because I bet it would hurt like hell.
Once Sapphire and I bandage his head up, he looks much better, less pale. He could be really sleeping, not just knocked out. It's clear to me he got hit hard, and must have a terrible concussion. It could be days until he regains consciousness, if he does at all. And after that he's going to be wounded for quite a while. We lay him gently on the ground, and Sapphire puts his head on his backpack like a pillow. I wonder if they knew each other back home. He's fifteen, a year younger than her, but still. Maybe they are friends from when they were little. They grew up together. Anything's possible.
I look around the camp to see if there are any other clues that will help me find out more about their fight, and why the boy was there, and why they were fighting at all. The boy's body is still there in the grass, and no cannon has fired, so he must be unconscious. As I shift through the messy camp, I notice something else over by our food supplies. There's an open bag of nuts scattered across the ground as well as several canisters of water knocked over. It seems like the boy was caught trying to steal food, and Harrison never let him get away.
Something shiny catches my eye on the ground. It's a knife, although the blade is clean. I pick it up by the heavy black handle, and it slips right out of my hands, the end slick with blood. So this is what injured Harrison so badly. The boy from Seven must have grabbed it from the weapons pile, and slammed it into the top of his head. It makes sense, as I can see where the shape of the handle left a dent in my ally's head. I turn around and walk back to where Sapphire is kneeling beside Harrison's limp body on the ground. Before I can explain what I saw, Natasha and Derek come rushing through the grass. "Hey we thought we heard you guys come back. Is everything alright?" Natasha bursts out, clearly out of breath from running.
"No," I explain how we found Harrison and the boy from District Seven. "He got smashed in the head with this." I hold up the black handle of the knife.
"He probably has a bad concussion. If he wakes up, he'll be fine after a week, maybe…" Sapphire trails off, "But he kicked that kid's ass."
Derek scowls. "A week?" he mumbles.
I know it'll be hard to have an injured ally, but would Derek be so cruel as to kill him? I make a mental note to keep him away from Harrison. "What about you guys? Did you find anything?" I ask to change the subject.
Natasha shakes her head, "We didn't find anyone, just a blood trail that went on for quite a few miles along the riverbed. We've been following it all morning and afternoon, but then it just stopped and there was no other way to find out where it was going and whose blood it was. There was no use trying to follow a trail that wasn't there. All we know is someone's on the move, but probably hurt." She shrugs.
The sun begins to set, and we sit down around the fire and cook our fish. Really they're very good, and I prop myself against a crate of apples to take the first watch throughout the night, feeling satisfied, except for one thing that's been bothering me all evening. I can't help thinking over and over about what Natasha said, and then about Marina, but once again I push that thought away. She would never leave a blood trail, she's much too clever for that. The only way it could be her blood is if for some crazy, unusual reason she didn't know she was bleeding, which is impossible. How could you not know? I almost laugh, thinking of how ridiculous I sound. I'm being silly and paranoid. Of course I am. Of course.
I can't fall asleep too well, so I take the first watch. It must be a little after midnight when the cannon goes off. That's it. The boy is dead. Harrison killed him, and we did nothing. There was nothing we could do, I remind myself. Still, it feels bad letting another human being leave this earth, even if it wasn't my fault. But I won't win the Hunger Games thinking like that will it?
Chapter 25: Marina (Day 3)
I wake up with the sun in my eyes and realize it must be about three hours after sunrise. I should be up right now. I yawn, and attempt to sit up, and then freeze in terror. I can't feel my arms or legs. My hands are like ice, and my breath is coming in short little gasps. The poison is coursing through my veins and making me feel worse and worse as time goes on. I know I am in a really bad spot right now. I have to leave now. I have to. If only my legs would cooperate! Before I start panicking, I take a deep breath and try to relax, despite my throbbing headache. I force myself into a sitting position, which squeezes tears out of my eyes, and I assess my condition.
I am in really bad shape. My legs are frozen, my head hurts terribly, my hands are cold and damp, and I feel stiflingly hot yet my body is shivering. I know these are effects of the poison. God I hate this stupid mutant grass! I am try to force myself to stand, but I end up lying flat on my back gasping for breath. No, I'll faint if I try that again. Instead, I get on my hands and knees and attempt to crawl. Yes, that I can do, and I painfully gather my pack and try to determine my plan of action, although it's clear to me I can't go on much longer. I wonder if I am going to die, and I imagine I will if I don't find any other way. I finish the last of my water from the Cornucopia, and as I drink, I relax. And that's when I see it.
The silver parachute laying on the ground beside where I slept, the container beneath it meaning that I got a gift from a sponsor, sent here by Mags. Desperately, I drop my empty bottle, and scramble over to the parachute on the ground and nearly rip it open. Please be medicine, please be medicine! It is! I unscrew the lid of the large container, and smell a sort of antiseptic, sanitizer smell that is probably likely to draw out the poison. This will save my life, but I'm not going to like it.
I crawl over to the riverbed and slowly, with great effort, I roll up the edge of my cut-off pants so they are above my knee and my whole calves are showing. They are red and hot to the touch, swollen with jagged cuts jutting up each calf. I wince, bite my lip, and promise myself I won't scream. One time, when I was little, I tripped on a rock back home, one that was riddled with barnacles, and scraped up both my knees. I ran straight home with Caleb, and my mother had to clean it with a liquid that burned so badly I cried and screamed in pain, but afterwards, I felt better and I remembered thinking about what made that medicine sting so much. Now I know it's the medicinal alcohol, and one whiff of this stuff and I can tell it's going to be painful. Slowly, carefully, I tip the bottle over until it's about to drip. I brace myself and…
I swing around, ignoring the pain in my muscles, and I grab a knife from the open pocket of my pack. I have it positioned in my hand to throw, but wait to see who my intruder is. Emerging out of the grass, looking a little run down, is Amber, holding her hands out in front of her, weaponless and eyes-wide. "Don't throw it! Kid, if you pour that stuff directly on your skin it'll burn like hell! You'll lose the first layer of skin for sure. Just…let me help you." She adds, golden brown eyes fierce and cunning. I don't know whether to trust her or not, but hesitantly, I lower my knife and she walks towards me. Her brows crease in concern when she sees my legs.
"Heads up," I joke pointing to my legs, "The grass is poisonous and razor sharp…" and then my arms give out and I fall on the grass in a dead faint.
God knows how much later I open my bleary eyes and sit up. It's nightfall. Have I been out all day? My stomach grumbles, and I realize I haven't eaten anything since I got up this morning. "Here," says someone beside me, "Eat this." She tosses a can of nuts at me and a bottle of water. Amber, of course. I relax, and begin stuffing my face. I'm starving. As I chew, the day comes back to me. One thought registers as more important than the others. Amber from District Eight saved my life. "Why did you do it?" I ask, "Why did you save me?"
She shrugs, "You were about to dump a bottle of antiseptic, flesh eating acid on yourself that's like ninety percent pure alcohol. I figured I could step in and save you the…well, death. I recognized it from the hospital. It draws out bacteria and poison. Of course we usually don't need that kind of stuff around factories, but I remember it from that time I had pneumonia and it was on the shelves in my hospital room. I was warned not to touch it. Of course I was seven, so I automatically wanted to." I smile. Amber's been so kind to me. My legs are all bandaged up and the painful anti-poison serum was applied while I was unconscious with a cloth instead of directly on the skin. Thanks to Amber.
"Thanks by the way. For… everything,"
"Don't mention it. I'm just glad you woke up. I wasn't sure you would for a while there. The poison really got into you."
I have no time to respond because the anthem is blaring in the sky, the projection coming to life in the stars. Just one died today, the boy from District Seven. I wonder who killed him. I don't even remember his name. "Thomas," says Amber as if reading my mind, "I ate lunch with him."
"The cannon fired when I was unconscious?"
"Actually I think it was after midnight last night, it woke me up."
"Oh," I pause, "So how old are you Amber?" I ask.
"Eighteen. I was so happy at the reaping that after that one day I'd be free of anxiety every freaking year. I just had to make it through that moment. But it just so happens it didn't turn out that way. Not for me."
"Don't I know how that feels." I mumble.
"Right. I can't imagine what it must have been like for you, with your brother and all." I shiver, but not from the cold. "What do you say," she smiles, "Allies?"
I hesitate. I don't know anything about this girl, even if she did save me. Plus, it's the Hunger Games and if I make an ally, we both can't win. I don't think I need to become attached to anyone else in this arena, Caleb is enough. I don't like trusting people that I'm not 100% sure of… "Allies," I shake her outstretched hand. I've changed my mind, not liking the closed-off, cold person I have become at times. It's time I started taking some emotional risks, don't you think?
Just then, a parachute floats down. Amber grabs it before it even touches the ground. "What do you know?" she laughs, "It's two rolls of bread, one from Four and one from Eight."
"Looks like our mentors even want us to be allies," I smirk. We both laugh and eat our bread. Despite my worrying, I can't believe how lonely I was the past few days. It's nice to have someone around you can laugh with. Later that night, I fall asleep with the sound of our laughter echoing in my ears.
Chapter 26: Caleb (Day 3)
The next morning, Sapphire barely leaves Harrison's side (although he doesn't regain consciousness), Derek looks glum, Natasha is restless, and I am strangely nervous. Nervous about what? I don't know. I keep pacing and thinking irrationally, and I just feel like I have to get out of this camp and do something. We have fish for breakfast, and then we decide to have a meeting to discuss our plans.
"Dude I don't know where all the other tributes are. When Natasha and I went hunting…I didn't see anyone out there in that devil grass! Just that stupid blood trail!" Derek complains like an angry child.
"Maybe we should follow it… I bet it leads to someone," Natasha points out. I feel my blood run cold, but then I remind myself I couldn't be Marina's blood trail.
"I don't know. Whoever left that trail could be anywhere by now. I think it's pointless," Sapphire says quietly.
"But what else have we got to do? We can't just sit around this camp! We have to do something," I add angrily, my anxiety catching up to me.
"Well you could take care of the really sick person on the ground with a bloody head."
We all jump at the sound of his voice and whirl around in shock. "Harrison!" Sapphire shrieks. "You're alive."
"Yes," he says, "And you're still crazy, and he's still a red head, and she's still a midget, and he's still…Derek." I'm smiling now, relieved to have someone around here with a sense of humor.
We all sit for a few minutes while Sapphire changes the bandages on Harrison's head. I think about Gwen as I watch Sapphire. Her blonde hair is darker than Gwen's, and more straight and thick. Gwen's hair is thin and curly and light blonde like the powdery sand back home, like flour. Sapphire is bright and exciting like sunshine on a hot day, but Gwen is cooler, softer, like moonlight flickering on the ocean's surface. Like the stars.
The five of us make our way down to the river to cool off. As we walk, I think of my mother. Small and strong, working to keep us all alive and healthy after my father left. She never wavered, never gave up. I think of Gracie's rosy cheeks and the sound of her laughter, just a small child's. She's got freckles like me, but her red curls are Marina's. I make a silent prayer for her. After this is over, let her be someone amazing, someone special. Let my family live on, after all this ends. After the Sixty-Second Hunger Games are over, and I'm gone.
"What was that?" I ask, swinging around, alarmed at the sound of a sharp hiss.
There, slithering out of the grasses behind us is a long blindingly green snake. Its eyes are red, and it's coming towards us. Immediately, Natasha throws a knife at its head and kills it instantly. We all relax for a moment, but then two more appear in its place. Derek kills one and I kill the other, and then four more come. What's going on? "They double!" Harrison's voice yells out, "Each one you kill doubles and two more come!"
We are surrounded now, as snake after snake jumps out of the grassland. We are shrieking and stabbing and fighting, even Harrison though he's wounded. It seems as though we are fighting for ages, but it could be an hour, it could be ten minutes. There have to be hundreds of these serpents around us, and we just can't get rid of them until we've killed all the snakes within a mile radius. I feel a striking pain on my ankle and wipe the sweaty hair out of my eyes. Looking down, I jump up and scream. A snake as attached itself to my ankle I slash at it and it releases its hold on my leg. I gasp for breath, and keep fighting.
After what seems like forever, the snakes are beginning to retreat, and with angry yell, Sapphire and Natasha chop off the last four snake's heads. As we sit there panting by the river, I take in what condition my allies are in. Sapphire is bleeding from a spot on her cheek, her hair is ragged, and she looks completely worn out. Natasha's shoulder is stained with blood and she looks at me wearily. Derek looks angry but unharmed, and Harrison is pale and panting. I take a moment to assess my own condition. I have fang marks on my ankle that are trickling with blood down my foot. Other than that, and being exhausted, I feel pretty much okay. But when I see my allies, I grow nervous. We are in a very bad position here. I don't know how much longer we are going to last. And I don't like that thought. Not one bit.
"Do the snakes have…venom?" Harrison voices the thought that no one wanted to think about.
"I don't know." Derek barely gets out before things start getting weird. All of a sudden, Natasha's screaming pierces the air like a thousand daggers, and Harrison starts rolling on the ground trying to put out an invisible fire. Derek and I just stare at each other, but then he starts twitching, and looks at his feet. He must see something that I don't because he starts swatting and yelping as the imaginary horror crawls up his leg. Sapphire grabs her throat and starts gasping. And I stand in the midst of the chaos, looking from person to person, as each one slowly loses their mind, it seems. "Heads up," I murmur, "The snakes have venom."
Before I have the chance to wonder if it will affect me, I see her. Marina. Looking beautiful despite the dull arena clothing and dirt on her face, like she did the night of the interviews. She's shining and smiling that one smile she saves just for me, for her family. I run to her through the grass. I try to ask how she got here and what she's doing, but I can't seem to control myself, and the words stay only in my head. Marina stands mutely, but then a look of terror and fear crosses her face, and I wonder what happened to make her look so grim. Then I realize I'm holding my dagger, and it's pointed right at her. She screams, which is the first sound she's made. "No! Caleb! Don't! You promised! You promised to take care of me!" She sobs over and over as my dagger jabs her again and again, and finally once in the heart. She stares at me, doe-eyes wide and wet with tears. "But…you- you said you weren't going to…win. You promised. You…promised. But now I'm going to…"
Blood runs down her chin, and she falls to the ground, stunning turquoise eyes still wide, but not with fear, with death. There are dark red stains on her shirt and she no longer looks like a goddess from the sea, but a dead child, not even fifteen, pale, cold, and alone. This feels like a dream, no, a nightmare, except part of me keeps saying it's real. And I did this to her. I failed. I'm a murderer.
Chapter 27: Marina (Day 4)
"We should head toward the mountains, the water will be fresher there, and I doubt we'll run into any other tributes there, or the Careers," Amber points upstream the next afternoon.
"That's where I was headed before anyway." I say, "Careers? Who are they?"
"It's what we call the group of tributes from One through Four. They always clump together to hunt others down. Except you of course," she looks at me oddly, "It's strange, really, to have someone from Four be working alone. Gotta admire you for that."
"My brother's part of that group, but I don't think he's a cold-blooded killer or anything," I admitted.
"Then you better pray they don't kill his ass," she smirks, "Come on. We'd better be getting on our way."
We destroy any sign that we'd been at our little camp on the riverbank, and start to head upstream, towards the mountains. I think a lot about what Amber said. I've tried not to allow myself to think of how many kills were Caleb's at the bloodbath. I'd been hoping it was none, but if he really is one of the "Careers" then who knows. I refuse to believe he's become some kind of monster. That happens every so often to a very unfortunate tribute who goes mad with the lust of taking the lives of others. I shudder, and focus on walking straight. I'm still a bit dizzy from the poison, but whatever Amber did healed me most of the way.
We walk all morning, and for the first time since I set foot in this arena, I feel like I am actually making progress. The mountains seem closer, I feel safer, and everything looks a bit brighter. Believe me, I haven't forgotten that I'm playing a death game that I'm more than likely going to lose, but I feel stronger, better, and braver. And something tells me it has to do with Amber. Having an ally has changed everything. I never realized how quicker and easier things are when you aren't working alone. The burden of loneliness and being trapped with my own thoughts has been lifted off my shoulders as well.
"Uh oh. Fire-hair, we are under attack. Weapons out and ready," Amber orders.
I get my knives out and I'm alert before asking any questions. After a moment, I whisper, "Amber, where? I don't see…"
Just then three tributes jump out of the tall grass and ambush us. Unfortunately for them, we are ready. Amber starts shooting away with her dart gun, and I throw my knives aimlessly, just hoping to stun our attackers to make a getaway. I am not so lucky, my first knife hits the boy from ten right in the heart. The adrenaline coursing through me erases the immediate shock of killing another human being. I keep my head in this fight, and continue on. The girl from District Three waves a long blade around, but it is clear that she is incompetent with a sword. Amber's razor sharp dart gets her in the side of the neck, but she is alive. Seeing that he could not win this battle, the extremely large boy from District Five picks up the injured girl and runs swiftly across the river, and towards the prickly forest I first saw behind me on my metal plate.
A canon fires for the boy I just killed. "We've got to clear out. Come on!" Amber grabs my arm, panting and runs with me over to the river. We run alongside it for a while, until the hovercraft retrieves his body, and we can rest. I can't seem to blink, or breathe, or think straight. I killed a boy. And I didn't think to retrieve my knife. But I dismiss the thought as if it can't possibly manner. It doesn't, I'm only looking for things to distract me from my own murderous self. I shudder, and Amber sits beside me. "Marina. Marina!" she yells, forcing me to look at her. I realize I'm hyperventilating. "Breathe. Relax. Are you okay?"
I nod mutely, my eyes glued to hers as she reties my hair back for me and gives me some water to drink. I want to crawl into her arms and cry like a small child. I'm sick of being strong and brave, and I want to forget everything. I wish I was home, sitting on the beach with Troy or Caleb, holding Gracie and laughing like none of this ever happened. I take deep breaths and sip water. It did happen. I am in the Hunger Games, with my own twin brother. I killed a boy. That makes me a murderer, doesn't it?
Taking this all in, I realize something else. Reality sucks.
Chapter 28: Caleb (Day 3)
I couldn't scream, couldn't make a sound. I just stared in horror. I knew without a doubt that what I had done had really just happened. I forgot about the snakes and the venom and my allies and everything except Marina, and how I killed her without thinking about it. I swore I wouldn't ever let the games turn me into a killer, and certainly not a murderer of my own twin. I collapsed on the ground, shutting my eyes, hyperventilating. Eventually, I just curled up there in misery, until the venom caused me to drift into an uncomfortable sleep.
The sound of a canon startles me awake. It's the afternoon. I remember the snakes attacked us in the morning, but my body clock tells me I've missed a day. It must be the afternoon of tomorrow. Slowly, my senses come alive again, and I push myself into a sitting position. All my joints and bones complain. I'm sore from the fight and a day's worth of sleeping in the same position on the hard ground. I stand up and, and find my allies around me, all unconscious still. I may as well wake them up, now that the venom is out of our systems. I know that I didn't really kill Marina. There's no body, no blood splotches, no smears on my hands or face. It was all a trick, a trick of the Capitol.
I hear a gasping coughing sound, and turn around to see Sapphire awake. I'm about to wave her over, when I notice something is very, very wrong. She can't get up, her neck is covered in black and purple bruises, and blood runs from deep gashes on her wrists. My eyes widen, and I run to her. "Sapphire! Sapphire! Oh- oh God what happened?" I breathe rapidly.
She coughs and tears run down the side of her face. She opens her mouth and closes it, and makes a few wheezing noises, trying to talk I think. I can tell it's painful as she winces. "Shh, shh, it's ok. You don't have to tell me. I'm going to get the first aid kit. We're going to get you better, I promise." She painfully shakes her head, grabs my wrist, hard, and croaks out, "No. Stay, stay with me. Please." She gasps a bit, I'm guessing from the bruises on her neck.
I sit beside her, "How- how did this happen?"
"My biggest fear…killing myself. I couldn't stop! I couldn't do anything! I just kept-" she sobbed.
"It's okay," I dry her tears, "It's all over now. All over."
Sapphire nods and swallows her tears, speaking a bit more clearly now, "I never wanted to kill anyone…" she shuts her eyes and breathes slowly, "Oh it hurts."
"Sapphire, you have to let me help you…let me save you." I practically beg.
"No one could save me now," she wheezes, "It's okay. Just listen to me." Her death grip on my arm tightens, "You are something else Caleb Alekson. And you inspired me. You made me…a better person. You…go out and- win." She coughs dangerously, her breathing speeding up rapidly and slowing down abruptly. She's sobbing now, and I can hardly sit and take this, but that's what she wants me to do so I hold her hand tightly, and let her slip away.
Tears flood her face, "Thank you." She barely whispers, as her eyes gently close and the life leaves her. The cannon fires, but I barely hear it. Those things she said to me just break my heart. Her death was horrifying. Completely. And I know whose fault it really is. Anger brings tears to my eyes, as I grab my hair so tightly, I nearly rip it out. Sobs rack through my body, but I just sit beside Sapphire, trying to remember fishing with her, and cooking, and sitting watching the flames flicker around the logs on that painful first night in the arena. We'd sort of been there for one another in these games, and for some reason, with her gone I've felt more alone than ever since we entered this arena.
It feels almost impossible to leave her on the ground like this for the hovercraft to pick up. I gently lift the dead girl in my arms, unable to hold back the tears that stain my face, and walk her to the riverbed. I lay her in the grass, and wash the blood off her. She's still beautiful. I look at my feet, "Goodbye Sapphire." I can't think of anything else to say.
I know she's gone once I hear the hovercraft come, but I don't look back. I walk forward to the others who I assume are still unconscious, but I am wrong. I see Natasha and Harrison are both sitting up, looking traumatized. I sniffle, and wipe the tears away.
"Caleb," Natasha looks up at me, "Where Sapphire?"
I don't answer. Harrison just stares and calls, "Sapphire? Sapphire?"
In response, all I do is shake my head.
Chapter 29: Marina (Day 4)
It takes a few minutes of walking to finally bring me back to normal, well close enough to normal anyway. As we trudge along the river bank, Amber and I are very alert since our attack, despite the fact that I am emotionally wiped and more confused than ever. I guess I am just realizing that once you kill another human being you are never, ever the same way again. It's like part of me died with that boy, part of me I will never get back. I look at my toes as we walk, taking deep breaths. "You sure you're okay now, Marina?" Amber asks.
I nod. "Mari." I add quietly.
"What?" she looks at me quizzically.
"That's what they all called me back home. Mari. But once we got into the games, even Caleb got so sucked into the intensity and seriousness that he forgot it. Ever since I've been just Marina." I sigh, "But I've missed the old nickname. All my friends called me Mari. I'd consider us friends, wouldn't you?" I look up at her, aqua eyes wide.
She nods at me, "Sure I would, Mari," and smiles widely. I smile back, relieved I had let this girl trust me. Just then, a parachute floats down. "Whose do you think it is?" she asks. I shrug and take off the thin, wispy silver fabric.
"I guess it's for both of us," I say, pulling out two containers of water and two packets of crackers. As I grab my fair share, I can't help feeling that somewhere, somebody is proud of me. Whether it's Mags, Amber, my mother, or heck, even my father out in the sea somewhere, I do not know. But it doesn't really matter; the feeling is reassuring no matter who it is. Like someone's watching over me, and that gives me strength to move on after the emotional trauma of the day.
A cannon fire breaks my train of thought. Amber and I both turn and look at one other, wide eyed, and curious. I count who's left on my fingers. Amber, Caleb, both from Two, the boy from Five, both from One, the girl from Three, and me. But I feel as though I'm forgetting someone. Either way, one of those people died today, which makes two in a day. All I can do is pray it isn't Caleb. I close my eyes, growing pale, trying not to imagine life without him. To take my mind off of things I ask Amber who I was missing when I just now counted the surviving tributes. "Lacy," she says, "The small blonde from District Twelve. Honestly, I've no idea what a little child like her did to stay in the competition this long. Whatever it is, congrats to her." I nod. "Look Mari, we should settle down and eat something, the sun's going to set and I'm famished."
We make camp not too far down the river, and have a small dinner, rationing the food we have left. I promise to fish a little first thing tomorrow. As we lay down in the grass watching the sky turn dark blue, I shiver, noticing how cold it's been at night. "I wish we had something to make a fire with. Really." My teeth chatter.
"I know! It's a frozen swamp in here at night. At least during the day it's just a plain ordinary swamp. Add in the 'frozen' and it's just no fun anymore is it?" after a moment, we both burst into laughter and it feels just so incredibly good. Like a weight lifted off my shoulders, and for a moment I even forget I killed someone today. Then again, Amber always makes me feel at ease. It's not surprise I guess. However, we are both genuinely surprised when another silver parachute floats down between us. And guess what? It's firewood.
In a matter of minutes, we have the perfect fire going, and I can't be more relaxed with the roller coaster ride my emotions have taken today. As the sky reaches the darkest it can get, I hear the anthem in the sky. I clench my fists, and look away. No. I just can't watch this. What if it's Caleb who died? What if deserting him at the Cornucopia was all a huge mistake because I failed to protect him and he's dead? I shudder, but curiosity wins, and I look up just in time to see the boy I murdered staring back at me from the sky. I shut my eyes fast, and apologize to his image, since there was no other way to really say what I should say to this boy. Just as quickly as he appeared, he disappears, and is replaced by the girl from District One, who I ate lunch with. What was her name? Ruby? Emerald? No, no it was Sapphire. Yes, that's right, Sapphire. My brother was particularly close with her. At least it wasn't him, I remind myself.
"That's Sapphire," I explain to Amber about how Caleb and I knew her in training.
She nods, "I remember her. I always expected her to be in the final three, if not in the top eight. I wonder what or who killed her."
I shake my head and shrug. "Mind if I sleep first tonight?"
"Yeah sure," says Amber, and goes to take the first watch.
As I curl up next to the flames, I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I feel warm, and relaxed. I'm exhausted, and I know I'm going to nod off sooner than later. But before I completely drift off into unconsciousness, I have this one thought. And it is the strangest thing I could feel here in the arena sleeping by a fire with a stranger. But nonetheless, I feel safe.
Chapter 30: Caleb (Day 4 continued)
"Oh my God! She's dead isn't she? How can she be dead?" Natasha cries.
The others look at me for an explanation, but Harrison can tell I don't really want to talk about it, or talk at all, for that matter.
"Caleb, you have to tell us-" Natasha starts, but Harrison puts up a hand to stop her.
"Just let it be," he murmurs.
"Let it be?" Natasha echoes angrily, "Let it be? You know what I bet he killed her! And- and he's planning to kill us! Right now!"
"No I didn't-" I say quickly.
"Natasha! He didn't kill Sapphire!"
"Oh yeah? How can you be so sure, Harrison! Unless…you're part of it too! You're turning on us aren't you! Aren't you?"
"Calm down, we aren't turning on anyone!" I shout.
"Liar!" she snarls, "I should have expected it from you, pretty boy." She points her knife at me, "But not you Harrison. How could you? After fighting side by side, sharing food, supplies, water…you disgust me!" her lower lip trembles with rage. "It's too bad you'll have to die traitors."
Harrison ducks as the knife sails by his left ear, and the next one just barely skims by his right cheek. Next, she attacks me with two more weapons that I dodge, but just barely. In this moment, I realize there's going to be no negotiating with her, no convincing her that we haven't done anything wrong. No, there won't be any of that. Harrison seems to have come to the same conclusion as me, as he stares straight into my eyes nodding. "We split, on three." He says.
"One." I say swiftly letting roundhouse kick find its way into Natasha's side. The breath goes out of her with an, oof sound.
"Two," says Harrison, pinning her to the ground to keep her from hurting us as she screams and thrashes around, enraged on the ground.
"Three," I say quietly, taking the hilt of one of her knives, and knocking her in the back of the head with it. I see no blood, but I can tell she's knocked out. That's all I was hoping for.
"Sweet," Harrison smiles. How he can smile right now, I don't know, but I follow in his footsteps and return it. "What about this one?" he nudges the still out-cold Derek with his boot.
"We just leave them, right? Unless you think we should kill them?" I respond, knowing I probably couldn't kill them anyway.
Harrison sighs. "Well, they are going to go looking straight for us if we don't… not that I really want to kill anyone, I never did, but who do you think's going to come after us? Going to kill everyone, even your sister, in the hopes of winning? And we are going to regret not killing them, that I can promise you."
I inhale deeply. Every camera will be trained on us now, and I don't know what to do. Everything Harrison is saying makes perfect sense. Still, I can't bring myself to kill another human being while they are dead asleep, or unconscious. I feel like that's cheating. I don't know, I just don't know. I look up at Harrison.
"I just…can't do it." I admit, painfully.
"Me neither," he agrees to my surprise, "But we have to do something to keep them from following us."
I think long and hard about this, except only one thought comes to mind. "Poison the water?" It's not a great plan, but it does avoid being forced to kill them in the moment.
"Harrison nods. "But with what?" he asks. Good question.
"Well, there's the snake venom…but that wouldn't kill them unless they had a fear of killing themselves, or one another, which seems unlikely." I swallow nervously at the thought of Sapphire. How awful it would have been to be forced to kill yourself…
"Maybe there are some poisonous darts in the weapons pile left over from the Cornucopia. We could dip them in the water…" he suggests.
We run swiftly back to the camp, and pick through the left over weapons. I don't see anything at first, but then I take a closer look at the arrows Natasha used once in the initial bloodbath. The ends are dipped in something, giving them a blue-ish tint. I show Harrison, and he nods. We walk over to Natasha and Derek's containers of purified water from the river, and dip an arrow in each. We let them soak until the blue poison is no longer visible on the arrowhead, but only in the water. I feel awful doing this, but Harrison is right. They are the biggest threat so far to us, and it is necessary.
Soon enough, we have our bags packed and our water containers filled. "Where are we going?" I ask. It's after nightfall, and we haven't discussed a plan, and we can hardly even see. Plus we have no idea what or who's out there, or what direction is the safest.
"Good question." Harrison smirks at me, then without asking if I'm coming, walks in the direction of the forest. I hesitate, but choose to follow him. Why not?
Chapter 31: Marina (Day 5)
"It looks like we're almost there!" I announce somewhat cheerfully at the sight on the snow-capped mountains that don't look nearly as far off as they once did.
"I bet it'll be just a few more miles. Thank God!" Amber replies as we hike through the tall grass, being careful to keep our boots on the next morning.
"How many tributes are left?" I ask curiously.
"Well, let's see… there's you, me, your brother, monster-boy from District Five, that one from Three that met my lovely dart gun, Derek the ruthless killer, Natasha the paranoid midget, Harrison from One, and the teeny twelve year old. I think that's it."
I laugh at her descriptions because from what I know of the other tributes, they're dead on. Suddenly, a though hits me like a slap in the face. "One more down and we'll be at the top eight, won't we?"
"That's right," says Amber, serious and thoughtful for a change, "Look how far we've come Marina. It almost seems so possible to…like we might actually have a chance at…"
"Winning?" I finish her sentence with one of my own thoughts.
"Yeah. It's closer than it's ever felt before. Don't you think?"
Before I get a chance to answer, a cannon fire scares my reply away. Who could it be now? Another Career? I bite my lip. Every cannon sends my mind directly to Caleb. I'll just have to wait until tonight to know who it was for sure. I look at Amber, and as if reading my thoughts, she shrugs and gives me a "we'll-have-to-wait-and-see" look. I shrug back at her, as if saying it's all fine and I'm not worrying one bit. As if.
A little while later, I notice the sun seems to be directly overhead. Noon. We stop by the riverbank for a bit of lunch. We finish off the last of our nuts and dried fruit. Now all I've got left are some crackers and two strips of beef. And Amber has even less. Making a decision, I take out my knives. Amber looks at me oddly, but I show her by studying the running water. The current has slowed down a bit for whatever reason, so I can see the fish. Being cunning and careful, I kneel down and take out three fish with my knives before they even know what hit them. "Dinner." I smile, holding up the three common river trout.
"You are something else," says Amber smiling and shaking her head.
Just before the sky starts getting dark, we arrive at the base of the rocky, jagged mountains. I feel a sudden sense of accomplishment. This was the plan I had when I first entered this arena, alone and depressed. But now look where I am, with an ally I trust, and a real shot at winning. Not that I want it all that much, knowing what my win would mean for Caleb. I sigh at the sight of the monstrously tall mountains before us. It is odd that now that we are here, I'm not sure what to do or where to go. Thankfully, Amber's got that one covered.
"Let's find a cave."
"Good idea," I nod, and walk around the base of the particular mountain in front of us, looking for a cave to spend the night in. A few feet above my head, I spot an ideal sanctuary that doesn't look too hard to climb up to.
"There!" Amber and I point and say at the same exact time. We laugh, and luckily we are even pointing at the same cave!
As we climb, I try not to step on any loose rock so I don't impale Amber below me with a shower of stones. I think very clearly, Foot here, grab this rock here, pull yourself up over there, Marina. Now do it again. Good, you got it. We don't need any climbing accidents after getting this far, of course. I get to the top first, and help Amber up too. We find ourselves standing on a flat ledge of smooth gray rock that leads directly to our cave.
"Weapons out," Amber orders.
With a silver flash my knives are out and we walk quietly down the stone and to the entrance at the mouth of the little gray cave. But before we get there, we hear the click of a weapon, and a very small voice erupts out of the cave. "Sorry ladies," she says, "But this cave's occupied." Lacy steps out, looking a little worse for wear with a jagged cut across her neck and aiming a very impressive looking gun at Amber and I. "Try to kill me and I'll shoot. The poison will kill you instantly." She says.
"Why should we believe you?" Amber sneers at our small attacker.
"Say I'm lying…are you willing to take that chance?" Her big blue eyes stare up at us wide and alert. I bite my lip. She's right, we have no way of knowing whether her gun will kill us or not. So we stand there awkwardly aiming weapons at one another, waiting for someone to move or speak or do something. For a little kid, she sure is tough. She reminds me a bit of Annie. The thought makes my eyes water.
"Fine. Are you going to kill us then?" I say painfully.
She stares at me angrily, with blue eyes bigger than I've ever seen on anyone. They are wide and pleading and fierce, but suddenly she looks at the ground and lowers her weapon, "No…no I suppose I couldn't."
"Good choice," Amber nods, and lowers her gun as well. I hesitantly grip my knife behind my back just in case. In the setting sun, I take a closer look at the girl before me. I'd be surprised if she cleared five feet or seventy pounds at that. The poor girl looks like she never had a proper meal in her life, though that might be true from the rumors we hear about District Twelve. She has blonde hair the color of flour and blue eyes like the sky on a cloudless day. Speaking of which, the heavens open all at once and it starts to pour. Not too cloudless here, is it?
"Oh dear… ahh well, come in then, I suppose." Lacy gestures awkwardly to her little cave. Amber looks at me raising her eyebrows. In response I shrug. We can't very well stand out in this rain.
Hesitantly, we walk with the smaller girl into her shelter. I have to admit, it is cozy in there. There's even a little fire going. I look at Lacy who is so young, who has made it this far against all odds, and seems so strong. I am astonished, and filled with respect. Her bright blue eyes return my gaze, and blink revealing long, thick eyelashes. She sniffles a little, and rubs her arms, staring into the fire once again. I notice she's got no food around, and from the looks of her hollow cheeks, she hasn't eaten in longer than I care to think about. Instead, I open my pack and pull out the three fish I caught earlier. "Dinner?" I ask. Lacy eyes it hungrily.
"Gosh! How'd you catch that? I've tried so many times!" exclaims Lacy.
"Years and years of practice back home," I chuckle and start to gut the fish just as the Capitol anthem blares in the sky. We rush out side in the rain for a moment, gaze upward long enough to see the dead body of the girl from District Three that Amber hit with her dart gun. Then, we rush quickly back inside, already drenched.
I'd guess about a half an hour later the three of us are sitting around the fire, eating bits of river trout. "Looks like my dart finally took out Three." Amber says without emotion. I am instantly embarrassed of the way I reacted after I killed someone. I can't imagine how she can just bottle it up like that. Either that, or she doesn't care, but that's not like Amber.
"Samantha. I ate with her." Lacy says quietly.
"Oh." I say even quieter. "Look Lacy, I'm sorry we came by your cave, thank you so much for everything, but I think we should be going…"
Lacy glances outside the cave. "It's raining like hell out there, are you mad?" seeing our expressions, she adds, "Well, I'm not going to kill you! Just stay the night, and you can leave tomorrow when the rain stops. Or better yet, I'll be leaving when the rain stops."
"Where will you go?" Amber asks.
"Somewhere far from here. I've been holed up in this cave for days. I don't know," she smirks, "Maybe I'll go kick some Career ass or something."
We all break out into quite a round of laughing, and settle in for the night. Great, because I'm exhausted. I have no idea what I'm doing or why we are so foolish to be here or where Lacy's going to go or how long I'll even be in this competition, but I can only form one clear thought. Sleep.
Chapter 32: Caleb (Day 5)
I open my eyes and react to my surroundings. It's the morning after Harrison and I left the group with poisoned drinking water. I still feel horrible about that, but if we just left them, they'd come straight after us. Harrison and I have a plan to follow the river bank up to the mountains. If I close my eyes, I can imagine seeing my sister again. I see her eyes, her smile, that little curl of her hair just below her ears. I am suddenly overwhelmed with a pang of sadness and longing. I dig my fingernails into my palms. I miss Mari so much. I hope more than anything that I see her again, and soon. I'm praying she's in the mountains somewhere. Maybe we'll run into her.
I get up and have a drink of water from my container. In silence, Harrison and I set off on the river bank up towards the mountains. It's about a day's journey from where our camp was with Natasha, Derek, and Sapphire. It's feels good to be going somewhere and doing something for a change. I still feel a bit weak and shaken from our battle with the snakes. I'm more amazed about how Harrison can still be moving. He still wears a bandage on his head, has a small concussion, and a bite on his leg from one of the snakes. Still, he limps along beside me, silent as I am.
"Hey man, you think we did the right thing, back there with the water?" I ask.
Harrison shrugs, "I guess so. It's the past. I try to forget it. These games, they're all about survival. We can't be blamed if we did what we had to do to win."
I nod, but I keep thinking that only one person can win the Hunger Games no matter what. Nothing can change that, not if siblings get reaped for sure. I bet there wouldn't even be an exception if two people in love were picked! In the sadistic Capitol, situations where the tributes have a relationship in any way just makes it more interesting. I know the 62nd Hunger Games will go down in history, even if one of us doesn't win. The thought makes me want to vomit.
By noon, we've traveled quite a distance, and stop to eat a bit. It's clear Harrison needs a break too.
"Harrison, you okay?"
"Well," he starts, "I got whacked in the back of the head with a blunt knife handle, I bled for like three hours, went into a mini coma, got attacked by creepy snakes that gave me visions, and now here I am on an expedition to some mountains. Never better Caleb, never better."
There's a long pause, and then we both burst out laughing. It feels great to laugh, to really laugh. It erases the pain of missing Mari, of holding Sapphire's hand through her horrendous death, and the inevitable fate that awaits me, everything. People do say laughter is the best medicine.
The enormous jagged mountains are looming up before us as we get closer and closer. Soon enough, they are only silhouettes and black outlines of mountains in the orange, red, and purple streaked sky. The sun makes it's descent below the horizon, and we make camp for the night by the river. I'm content to watch the sky fade to black, it distracts me from thinking. I've had too much time to linger on unhappy thoughts usually involving Marina, my family back home, Gwen, or the fact that pretty much everyone's going to die including me. That's rather grim, don't you think?
Before I dose off, I see that the Girl from District Three is dead. The thought dawns on me that I've made to the final eight. Well good for me. I should feel like that's some great accomplishment, but it only makes me feel like I'm a step closer to death. I can only hope that I see Marina again before I die. Then, I'd at least feel semi-complete. Semi.
Chapter 33: Marina (Day 6)
The boom of a cannon fire interrupts my sleep in the early morning the next day. I look around at my surroundings, a bit discombobulated. Where am I? A cave? What? Slowly, as I regain consciousness, the previous day comes back to me. Then my stomach gives a little jolt. That cannon could have been Caleb. Now that we're in the final eight, the chances that each cannon might be his death ringing out over the arena get greater and greater. I won't know until tonight. This waiting and waiting around in this arena eats away at my insides. I know we've only been here for six days, but it may as well have been a lifetime!
Amber is just waking up beside me on the stone floor, and Lacy is nowhere to be seen. Maybe she left looking for trouble already. I thought maybe she'd give us a bit of a warning, or a chance to thank her. "Cannon? Huh?" Amber says groggily.
"Yeah. Eighteen down, Six to go." I sigh.
"I can't believe eighteen people died in only six days. That has to break some sort of Hunger Games record, doesn't it?" Amber asks more awake now, sitting up next to me.
I shrug as if Hunger Games records mean less than nothing to me. "Well two of those deaths were at our own hands, Amber." I remind her quietly.
She nods, face emotionless, and walks out of the cave. I follow behind, and gaze out across the arena. The view is brilliant. I never got a good look yesterday because Amber and I were too busy avoiding getting our heads blown off by Lacy the badass twelve year old. From way up here we can see the dark forest, the miles and miles of rolling grassy hills, the river that runs from above us to a waterfall that drops off at the other end of the arena. What's after that, I can't see and won't let myself wonder about. There are enough horrors in this arena to last forever, I don't need to spend my time wondering about more. I look directly below us, to get a sense of how high we are when I see them. Two boys, but I can't see their faces. I do see that they are just waking up from their small camp, and that they are going to try getting up the mountain, directly towards us. "Amber!" I say in a hushed, urgent tone, "Intruders! Weapons out!"
We grab our knives and guns from the cave, and head out, ready to defend ourselves and one another. I'm lucky to have somebody on my side. We hide behind large sheets of mountain rock and clay until we get a better look at who it is. I really don't want to face that viscous boy from District Two, or the enormous one from District Five. But if it's not them, who does that leave? It leaves whatever's left of the Careers, which includes my brother. My blood pounds in my ears, and my stomach ties itself into knots at the thought of seeing him right now. I can't tell if it's from anticipation or dread. God knows. When it comes to emotions, I've given up on trying to comprehend them, even my own.
Amber is brave enough to poke her head out from between the rocks and whispers, "I see them! They are trying to climb up, or devise the best plan to get up here. Oh! It's the boy from District One-"
"Right. And the other one…I can't see him yet. Come on… Oh! Oh my God. I don't believe it!" she exclaims with widened eyes.
"What? Who is it?" I ask frantically, but part of me already knows who she's going to say.
" Oh Marina…It's Caleb."
I swallow hard and take a deep breath. "Of course it is."
I lean my head against the back of the rocks and grind my teeth. My twin? Here? Now? God, why me? I don't know what to do. I know he's come here for me. Why else would he come? But I thought we had been doing a good job traveling alone and quietly up the river bank, leaving no physical trail. I guess that's it. We didn't leave a physical trail, so he must have guessed I'd be here. He knows me so well. Either that, or I am more predictable than I thought I was. Slowly, I peek my head out the side of the rock, knives at my side. I peer out, and see him. Red hair, freckles, green eyes…it's Caleb without a doubt. I'd recognize him anywhere. Then, without warning, the string I was using to tie my dark red hair back comes undone. My red locks whip down over my face. Muttering a swear I dart back behind the rock, breathing hard, but it's no use. He saw me. They both did.
"Marina! MARINA!" Caleb comes bolting up the mountain rocks towards me. What do I do? The sound of his voice brings tears to my eyes. I have to see him. I have to. I've made my decision. I nod to Amber, and we emerge from behind the rocks, weapons drawn. But when Caleb finally gets up, alongside Harrison, there isn't much time to talk. "Caleb! Run! It's Natasha! And she's got Lacy!" I scream pointing down by where the river meets the mountain base. But at the same time, he yells, "Marina run! Mountain lions!"
Amber and I turn around frantically searching to brown rock behind us. There they are looking ferocious and intimidating, six mountain lions, snarling and by the looks of it, hungry. I turn back to look by the base of this mountain, and there's Natasha, holding a knife to Lacy's throat, trying to threaten her into telling about a way to get up to our cave. One of the lions behind me gives a low growl. Well what a coincidence, the second I meet up with my brother, we are both in mortal terror and surrounded by killers. Nice to see you again, bro.
Chapter 34: Caleb (Day 6)
Everything from then on happens so fast. Amber and Marina turn around to face their attackers. The mountain lions are jumping down from high rocks to join together and attack my sister and her ally. There appears to be about twenty of them, and I wonder if two teenage girls can take them on. I look at Harrison. "We have to help them!"
"We can't! Look!" Harrison draws my attention away from Marina and Amber, and to Natasha holding a struggling Lacy in her fierce grip, with a knife to her throat. "I swear to God if you two traitors try to help them, I'll slit her throat right here, right now."
I look into Natasha's eyes, and see that she means it. She'd do it. I stand frozen, eyes wide beside Harrison. Then, I look at Lacy, and I am surprised. She looks angry, confident, and fierce. She isn't even whimpering. The twelve-year old returns my gaze, gives the slightest nod and mouths, "One, two, three." On three, Lacy rams her heel into Natasha's knees, causing them to buckle, and for her to fall to the ground. She grabs the knife from the older girl's hand and holds it over her throat. "Who's in charge now, huh? Oh how the tables have turned!" Lacy laughs, sounding completely out of her mind. She's smiling despite the pain in her eyes and I wonder what Natasha did to her before they got here. I shudder, and turn around with Harrison. "Let's go." He says, and we run up the mountainside towards my sister and Amber.
By the time we reach them, both girls are surrounded by mountain lions, but up close it's clear to me that they are no ordinary cats. Their eyes are red and gleaming, their claws are 3 inches long and razor sharp, and they have fangs that reach over their snarling mouths. These are the Capitol's creations, mutts. Harrison and I join my sister and Amber, getting our weapons out.
"Ready to kick some ass?" Amber smirks.
"Oh yeah," Harrison nods, and things get out of control.
One of them lunges at me and I manage to fend it off with my dagger, slashing here and there. All I can see is a tangle of paws and claws and fangs and fur. Everything is happening so fast as I finally take one down, only to be attacked by another from behind. Marina shrieks, but I can't even turn around to look at her, or the thing will be at my throat. I pray she's okay as I stab the lion in the leg and it collapses, unable to get up. I quickly run to my sister, and help her finish off one of the huge menacing animals. One it's down, I have a second to make sure she's alright. "Mari! Are you okay, why did you scream? You hurt?"
"No, no! It wasn't me, it was him!" she points at Harrison. He's doubled over on the ground, clutching his stomach, which is bleeding profusely. "Oh my God, Harrison! Harrison!" I call over to him, but we are attacked again. Marina flings a knife into one and I stab the other. Amber takes out the last three mountain lions standing with her dart gun, but not before taking a claw to her upper arm. Marina herself got bitten in the ankle. I'm lucky to come out uninjured. The thought sends me running to my fallen ally. I sit beside Harrison and think how stupid I was to let him fight! How could I have forgotten his concussion? And that he was hurt? If I was a different tribute, I would never enlist myself as an ally. I am ashamed I didn't remember the fact that I was putting my companion in grave danger. I am overwhelmed with the thought that he might die, right here, right now, and I would blame myself.
"Hey Harrison, are you okay? What happened?" I say looking down at the claw marks on his stomach.
"Whoa, Caleb. Why are there two of you? Don't tell me you have another twin in this arena. That's rough, man." Harrison blinks at me.
"What's he talking about, Caleb?" Marina looks at me nervously.
"He got a concussion a few days ago, was knocked out for a few hours. He never should have over exerted himself. Now he's seeing things!"
"Harrison, why would you fight if you knew you were hurt?" Marina asks, kneeling beside him.
Harrison shrugs, "You think I'd let you guys have all the fun? Hey, I think I'm bleeding by my stomach I think…maybe you should do something about that, huh?"
"Don't look at me! I don't know what to do about that!" I exclaim. I'm lucky I haven't been too badly hurt so far in this competition because I don't know much about healing.
"I hate to break it to you Harrison, we aren't healers," Marina admits quietly.
"But I am," says Amber, walking towards us from where we killed those mountain lion mutts.
"You are?" Marina asks wide-eyed, "That must be how you knew what that antidote was I got by the river, how you warned me not to burn myself! You're like a doctor?"
"No my father's a doctor back home, I only help. Let me see that scratch you got there." Amber examines the gashes on Harrison's stomach. "Well we'd better clean that up so it doesn't get infected, and bandage it really tight to stop the bleeding. You've lost a lot of blood already, my friend. We gotta get working right away! Marina, go get our water bottles from the cave, and a roll of bandages from my pack. Caleb, stay here and help me put some pressure on the wound." Amber rips off her sweatshirt and presses it against Harrison's stomach. "Push as hard as you can, Caleb. We have to stop the bleeding."
I nod, and press down, hoping I'm not hurting Harrison too badly. "Ow! Hey what are you doing?" he asks angrily.
"Saving your life!" Amber replies.
"Since when was the whole life-saving business so painful? Ow!"
"Just shut up and stop bleeding."
"I would if I could."
"What? Shut up or stop bleeding?"
"Both." Harrison smiles, and Amber rolls her eyes, focusing on the injury. Marina returns quickly, holding the supplies Amber needs to save Harrison, and I silently pray this works. Harrison is such an idiot, fighting viscous mountain lion mutts with a concussion!
"Can you sit up?" Amber asks. Harrison lifts his neck up and clenches his stomach muscles, but puts his head back on the ground quickly. His face is as white as paper, and more blood seeps through Amber's sweatshirt. "No."
Amber takes a deep breath and stares into my eyes. I give her a can-you-save-him-look? Her eyebrows crease, and she bites her lip. Just as she begins to clean his wound with fresh water, Lacy's scream pierces the air. Amber looks up, horror in her eyes, "I'll take care of him, go. Go!"
Marina and I scramble down the mountainside and onto hard grassy ground. Lacy stands in front of us, unharmed, but without any weapons.
"Wha-" Marina begins, but Lacy cuts in.
"I tried to stop her! But she got away! Marina! Watch out!" But it's too late, Natasha's arm comes out from behind her, holding a knife that she presses against Marina's throat. "Derek's dead, you know. Very clever, that poisonous water of yours, Caleb, he certainly fell for it! You kill my ally I kill yours. That's just the way it goes, huh? Any last words, Maria?" Natasha spats at my sister.
"It's Marina, you idiot." She exclaims angrily, hiding her fear.
"No, Natasha, please. Something happened to you when those snakes killed Sapphire! This isn't you! Don't kill her, it's not right! Somewhere deep down you know you aren't doing the right thing! Please, drop the knife." I plead, knowing she could end my sister's life right now. Oh how the Capitol's loving this, the cameras are all trained on us now, aren't they?
"Drop the knife? Why should I? You didn't show us any mercy? Why should I show her any?" Natasha snarls at me.
"Because she didn't harm you, I did. She didn't kill Derek, I did. She's not the one you're really here for at, I am." I take a long breath, knowing what I must do, "Do it, Natasha. Take me instead. Please."
This is what was supposed to happen all along. Now here I am, ready to die to save Mari. Any you know what? I'm not even scared. It's okay. Everything's going to be alright. Natasha stares me down, drops Marina, and kicks her. "Stay down. Me and redhead number two have some unfinished business to take care of here, don't we?"
I gulp. "Caleb, no! Please! This isn't what I want! This was never how I wanted it to happen! Don't die for me, you wouldn't be helping me! Don't do this to me!" Marina sobs, but I tune it out. If anyone can change my mind it's her, but I have to do this, I have to protect her. I always have.
"Throw the knife at me, Natasha, it's over. Do what you want. Marina, run! Get the hell out of here now!"
"I won't let you do this! I won't leave you!"
"You heard Caleb, scram Marianna." Natasha steps toward me, and ready's her knife. I saw her in training. She's almost as good as Marina, she doesn't miss.
I close my eyes. For Marina. I hear a whistling as the knife gets thrown into the air, and as it gets closer to meeting its target, I feel the final moments of my life slipping away once and for all. This is the end.
Chapter 35: Marina (Day 7)
"CALEB!" I scream, right as I watch Natasha ready the knife. I know knife throwing, and I know she's aiming to kill. I can't let that happen. This can't happen. I promised myself I'd never let Caleb die for me, despite his well thought out plans. I can't even focus on anything but Natasha and Caleb and the gleaming knife in her hand. It doesn't even register that Lacy is beside me, until she slips something into my hand. It breaks my concentration for a moment, and I see it's her dart gun, the one where one shot ensures death. I know what I have to do. I stand beside Caleb with Lacy to my left and slightly behind me. Natasha is so focused on Caleb, and his eyes are closed, preparing for death. Not today, brother.
Just as I shoot the gun, aimed at her neck, she takes notice of me, and brings the knife up to block the bullet. There's a whistling sound as the bullet passes close to Caleb's head, and Natasha blocks the bullet successfully, and my eyes widen in fear as she walks towards us, enraged. "So you think you're smart don't you? Trying to save Caleb from getting what he deserves. He killed two people! Our friends! People who trusted him…" Natasha's actually crying. I feel a surprising pang of sympathy for her, she's so lost. You can see it in her confused her brown eyes.
"No Natasha…" Caleb gasps, eyes open and obviously shocked to still be alive, touching his chest where the knife should be. "How?" In response, I hold up my dart gun and point at Lacy. Caleb merely shakes his head. I couldn't possibly say what he was thinking at that moment, which is alarming because I can almost always read his thoughts and emotions so easily.
"Natasha," Lacy steps out fiercely, "The only killer here is you." She brings her small fist up to Natasha's face hard and she drops to the ground, knocked out. "What a relief. I'm so glad she stopped talking." Lacy nudges Natasha's porcelain white cheek with the tip of her boot. "I find her quite annoying."
At that we all start laughing, and Caleb grabs me in his arms tightly. "Why did you do it? I told you I'd do anything to protect you. I was ready."
"No one's ever ready to die, Caleb, never. I don't believe in that. Plus, I told you that's not how it's going to happen. I don't want you to die for me. You won't be helping me at all. Let's get back to Amber and Harrison." I say, and begin trudging up the mountain slope, followed by Lacy. "Caleb?" she calls back.
"I'm fine…I just have to take care of something." He calls back.
"Be quick about it. It's not safe to be alone. Yell if you need anything." She adds. Caleb nods, and goes back to staring at Natasha's collapsed form.
We make it back to the cave, with my stomach grumbling. I haven't eaten since breakfast and it's got to be late afternoon. It'd probably be best to eat the last of the fish, and then go out tomorrow to replenish our supply. We're running low on water, too. I only have a small bit of dried fruit and nuts left as well. Soon enough, we'll be eating nothing but fish. I sigh at the thought. After all, it is the Hunger Games. I expect I've lost about twenty pounds already, and I was thin to begin with, eating only what I needed back home. I glance at Lacy. The poor girl's merely skin and bones. From what I know, District Twelve's a rough place, even for the "wealthy."
As we enter the cave, I can tell automatically something's amiss. Amber is sitting beside Harrison, looking down with her eyebrows creased in concern. He can't be dead since there was no cannon fire. Yet, something is definitely wrong here. "Amber…is everything okay? Can we do something to help?" I ask.
"I just…I can't let him die. He's bleeding and bleeding! He won't stop bleeding! It's too much Marina. I can't save him, but I can't let him die. Nobody dies when I take care of them! Not home, not here." This is very odd, and out of character. I look at her strangely, she's seems nearly hysterical. Tears are spilling down her cheek. "You have to… help me." She barely whispers.
Lacy and I walk over to where Amber is kneeling beside Harrison. He appears to be only asleep, except for the bandages on his chest where the lion mutts got him. Lacy lifts the bandages a bit to see the damage done and it's brutal. The bleeding hasn't stopped, and you can now see how deep the claws got into him. "I know what he needs."
"You do?" Amber says, sniffling.
"Yes. There's a healer woman back home. She grew up with my mother in town when they were little, and then married a coal miner and went to live in the Seam, where all the coal miners live. Mrs. Everdeen's her name. She saved me once when I had pneumonia and everyone thought I would die, and when my little brother got really badly cut by broken window glass. When that happened, she put anti-infection cream and a powerful sort of fast healing concoction. We'd need a gift from a sponsor to save him, nothing here can help us."
"Really? There's nothing?" I ask, shaking my head in doubt.
"Not up here in the mountains." Lacy sighs, "I've been up here for a really long time and I haven't found many useful things. Just shelter and water, no helpful plants."
It's then that Amber breaks down. "It's over then, isn't it? He's dead! It's all my fault, it's all my fault! I've practically killed him, just like Samantha. I'm a murderer. I promised my two little sisters that I wouldn't kill anyone in the Games. I'm a liar and a murderer." She cries enough to fill the whole river that runs through this arena, but there's nothing I can do but assure her that she's no murderer. That this isn't her fault, and Samantha was an accident. It was a battle, this is the Hunger Games. People die. And that Harrison's not even dead yet. But eventually, she stops crying, and stops talking too. She just gets very quiet. Lacy looks at me fearfully, blue eyes full of concern.
Caleb arrives a few minutes later, looking confused. "What have you done with her?" I ask, meaning Natasha, of course.
"I just left her by the river." Caleb says quietly.
"You mean you didn't kill her?" Lacy asks with a mix of bewilderment and admiration.
He only shrugs, and I'm surprised nobody mentions that the second she wakes up, she'll only be after us again.
In an hour, we have a fire going, and I've even coaxed some dinner into Amber, who's feeling a bit better. She falls asleep on my shoulder as we sit around the fire happy to be alive and warm, even if it doesn't last. Lacy drops off next, after we see Derek's face light up in the night sky. Harrison's still out, though he appears to have stopped bleeding after all.
"Looks like we're taking the first watch by default." Caleb smiles and grabs my hand and squeezes it affectionately. It hits me like a thousand pounds, how much I've missed him the past five days.
"Yeah. Don't do that again. Please."
"Almost die." I say.
There's a long pause before he adds, "I only want to protect you."
"I missed you," I change the subject, "It feels right to take on this arena together at last."
"Yeah, but you were right to go at the start, even if I didn't support you. You know, I keep thinking about home. About mom, and Gracie, and Gwen. Our lives, you know. Who we are, or were." The firelight flicker's off his tan skin, making his eyes look light and wishful.
"I know, I miss them too. If one of us makes it back home…everything's going to change. It'll never be the same again." It's hard to admit this, but I know it's true.
"You were right. I wasn't ready to die, and I'm still not." He admits too.
"I know," I smile lightly at him. "Stay alive for me big brother."
"Yeah big by a minute." He laughs and I rest my head on his shoulder and fall comfortably asleep with my twin, my other half, where I belong.
Chapter 36: Caleb (Day 8)
The sun peeking into our cave is what wakes me up the next morning. I feel the warmth of hope and promise light up my whole being, and I am overwhelmed with gratefulness for the gift of being alive. My life nearly ended right there standing with Marina beside me, a knife poised in a killer's hand. And I told myself I was ready to lose it all. Well I'm not. I never was, but that's the thing about being brave and strong for someone else. You gotta do what you gotta do. Sighing, I slowly stand up, and gently move Marina's head off my shoulder and onto her pack on the floor like a pillow. I am the first awake, watching the red sky morph to orange and gold and then blue. Lacy fell asleep on watch I can see, and she looks much less menacing asleep, more like a lost child that barely weighs seventy pounds. The tragedy of this sight hits me like a ton of bricks. I almost wish the cruelty of the Capitol was a tangible thing I could destroy with mere force.
I hear a sharp whimpering coming from the other side of the cave. Amber turns over in her sleep, with tears rolling down her cheeks. She shivers and mumbles quietly. Curious, I tiptoe near her, trying to understand. All I can make out is, "I'm so sorry…my fault," and "Harrison." I sigh sadly to myself and put her thin green blanket over her shoulders. I know her outburst yesterday had something to do with that girl who died eventually after she shot her with her dart gun a few days ago. Marina told me that's what this is all about and that she's not taking it well. The only person I've killed is Derek…and that was indirectly. I thought about killing Natasha yesterday when Lacy knocked her unconscious. She hit her pretty hard, so I'd guess she's either woken up by now or will soon. And I know she'll be headed straight for us. Perhaps I should have killed her, but I just couldn't do it…not after nearly losing my own life.
The sun rises further into the sky, and I guess it may be around seven thirty. Time to get everyone up for another exciting day in the Hunger Games! Yay.
"Hey. Amber, wake up. Amber," I shake her shoulder gently, and her eyes open slowly. She stares at me, realizing where she is, and hastily wipes her tears away.
"Oh, Caleb. Ahh, where's Harrison?" she asks, slightly embarrassed at herself for crying.
"He's there, next to Lacy. You should probably check on him." I nod to the girl beside me.
I walk over and wake Lacy and Marina, while Amber checks on our injured ally. I watch nervously as she checks his pulse, and changes the bandages on his stomach and chest. "His heartbeat is very slow, but it appears that the bleeding's finally stopped-"
"Water." Harrison murmurs without opening his eyes. With a surprised look on her face, Lacy grabs a bottle from the pack and tosses it to Amber. She then kneels beside him, holds out his hand and places the bottle in it. She talks softly and soothingly to him. "Harrison. Here, it's water. Drink. I got water for you."
His eyes open and he manages to tilt the bottle to his lips and drink. We all smile and exhale in relief. "That's a good sign," Amber admits.
"Wha- what happened? Ow! My chest hurts. Who cut me?"
"A mountain lion mutt. Yesterday. You really don't remember Harrison?" Lacy asks.
"Oh…we were fighting and- and one took me down with its claws and Amber pressing her sweatshirt on me and…blood everywhere. And all night someone was crying next to me…and holding my hand and telling me to wake up and she was sorry. Sorry about what?"
All four heads turn to Amber for an explanation but her eyes widen and she looks at her feet, her face reddening. "I- I was…I thought you might, you know, and I didn't know you could hear me and…I thought it was my fault if I couldn't save you."
Marina takes Amber's hand like a good friend. I suddenly realize that there are only seven of us left. Natasha, Lacy, Harrison, Marina, Amber, the boy from District Five whose name we still don't know, and me. Five of the seven tributes left are in our ally group. Soon we are going to have to start turning on one another. Just the way the Capitol likes it. I can't imagine killing any of the people here in the room with me. I just can't even think of it. As this thought occurs to me, I lock eyes with Marina and tune out the background noise.
I stare into those eyes that are so like my own. They are familiar aqua and turquoise, like home, like the sea, like Sunday mornings. They are Mom, and Gracie, and Dad, and the twin I love so much. I nod to her. I know what we must do. We can't stay here. Not while Natasha's after us. We're putting the others in danger. She's hunting us, not them. Plus, the competition is getting tough. Marina and I need to separate and sever the alliance. Tonight. We should head as far away as possible. We can return quickly to the Career base camp and get supplies while Natasha's gone and head through the forest and beyond. When the others fall asleep, we'll have to be on our way. I realize there's no other choice at this stage in the games. Plus, the two of us working together is exactly what the Capitol wants. Maybe we'll get a lot more sponsor gifts.
As Amber and Lacy sit beside Harrison, I gesture that Marina should follow me to the mouth of the cave.
"Marina I think we should-"
"Tonight. At midnight, have your things packed." I don't even get surprised when we reach the same conclusion at the same time, it happens often. We have twin telepathy, that's for sure. Marina stares sadly in Amber's direction. I know they've been together pretty much since the beginning.
"I'm sorry Marina, it's the only way."
She nods, and we rejoin the group like we never left, never made that crucial decision, never severed the bond between us all. But we have. Amber puts an arm around Marina protectively, like a big sister. Marina shoots a glance my way, and I know what she's thinking. I wish things weren't the way they are. Well don't we all.
Chapter 37: Marina (Day 8, Day 9)
No deaths today. The sky shows no faces, just the anthem, the Capitol Seal, and nothing. There hasn't been a death in a few days, but hopefully the audience is entertained enough what with the drama concerning our alliance and Natasha, although Caleb and I know she's really only after him, Harrison, and me, Caleb most of all. That's why we have to leave and sever the alliance. Leave Harrison, Lacy, and most importantly Amber behind.
This is what I remind myself as we sit around the blazing fire together inside our little cave. This hole in the side of the mountain has become our sanctuary, our safety, and almost like a home. I look at the people around me. I see Amber, smiling and laughing which has been rare since Harrison got hurt. I shift my focus to Lacy, who is looking thoughtful while staring into the fire as if it were hypnotizing. I realize she's only twelve and still very innocent. She only talks a big game. Harrison is lying down beside the fire as well, with his pack beneath his head, and clean bandages on his wounds. Amber says it's important to keep out infection. I look at my brother who is laughing along with Amber at something I missed, but as usual he looks up when my eyes are on him, like he can feel me thinking about him. He gives me a slightly pained expression in his familiar eyes and a slight nod. This connection tells me he's saying, I know, but we have no choice.
With a sigh I look away. I knew it would come to this eventually. With only seven of us left, we really must separate before worse things occur. I never imagined I would become so close with the three allies Caleb and I have made, especially Amber. That's the thing about trusting people, once you do, you've given them a part of you. It's something you'll never get back, and if you separate you have to live the rest of your life missing that part you so boldly gave away. But that's not just it, you have a part of them too, something that you never can truly get rid of, even if they are gone from your life. That's why sharing a connection with someone is so dangerous, and it's something I have usually avoided in my life.
"We all should probably get some sleep." Amber says when her laughing and smiling fades and she's back to reality. It's amazing how quickly joy flees and you realize you're a competitor in a murderous show of children killing one another for a sadistic society's enjoyment.
"Agreed." It's the first thing I've said in at least an hour.
"Is something wrong Marina?" Amber asks, turning both Harrison and Lacy's heads my way. Perfect.
"No…it's nothing. I think I could use some sleep."
"I'll take first watch," Caleb announces as we all lay our heads down to rest. All is going according to plan. I close my eyes, but I don't feel tired, just pained.
"What? Huh? Caleb?" I open my eyes slowly and see my brother's head in front of my face.
"It's about midnight. You fell asleep. We should go…"
"Right. Of course, sorry." I shouldn't have fallen asleep! Well, there's nothing I can do know but cooperate.
I grab my pack and pick up my water bottle. Caleb says we'll just fish as we go, and get supplies at the Career base, which is only a day's journey from here. That's how Caleb, Harrison, and Natasha got here so quickly, whereas it took me days. I was also injured and slow, but I don't think of that much. It's best to put the poison memories behind me. I guess Caleb and Natasha don't even know about the dagger grass. I'll be sure to tell him on the way.
"Ok. I'm ready." I stand with my pack on my back at the mouth of the cave, but not eager at all to leave.
"Me too." Caleb says.
We turn back at the sleeping group, deep in thought. Goodbye friends, and allies, and shelter, and warmth, and cool nights together by the fire, goodbye home. Caleb puts an arm around my shoulder and I surprise even myself when a tear trickles down my left cheek.
"Goodbye Marina." I nearly jump five feet in the air when Amber's voice rings out.
"Amber! I- umm…I was only..."
"Save it Marina. Like I haven't known you two were planning this for a while. The exchanged sad looks, the sighing, your silence tonight. You act like I have no people skills."
"Amber, I'm sorry. I just hope you can see that there's only seven of us left and there's-"
"-no other choice. I know. Just make me proud."
My eyes really fill now, "Thank you."
"For being my ally, for being my friend, for being there, for teaching me about trust and friendship, and most importantly for saving my life, not only all those days ago, but every day since I met you."
We're both tearing now as she gives me one last hug, and I'm forced to say goodbye to the closest thing I've ever had to an older sister. "Be safe." I whisper in her arms.
"You too." She sniffles.
"Amber," Caleb finally speaks up, "It was great to meet you, and be your ally. Good luck. And I wouldn't stay here long…she'll be back."
Amber nods, and we all know who "she" is. "I think I'll take the group further west and in the valleys between the mountains. Seems as far away as possible."
"Well, I guess this is goodbye." I say at last.
"It has been a privilege to know you, Marina. I won't forget for the rest of my life, no matter how short that may be."
"I'll never forget you, ally." I whisper as Caleb and I depart. I don't know why, but I feel in my soul that I may truly never see Amber again, one way or another. I take a moment to sob into Caleb's shoulder and let my depression slip away, like the ghosts of the children who've already lost their lives. As we climb down the mountain and into the tall grasses I know so well, I look back at the mouth of our cave where Amber stands, crying quietly to herself. I touch my heart and raise my hand to her, and I see her do the same in the distance. With a nod to Caleb, I turn and face reality, with the hidden promise of never looking back.
Chapter 38: Caleb (Day 9)
There's a full moon overhead that's much too big to be real as I walk alongside my sister in silence. Truthfully, there isn't much to be said. The tall grasses blow in the cool night air. It's much colder here at night than it was in the springtime back home. By morning we should be at least halfway to our old base camp, and arrive there by evening tomorrow. We'll gather supplies there and head for the forest. I can't think of anywhere else that's further from Natasha.
I'm thinking about Harrison as we walk. How we betrayed the Natasha and Derek together, how I helped bandaged his wounds, how he always called me "redhead." I try not to get myself down, but I feel like I've done a terrible thing. Harrison is mortally wounded, and I just left. He must think now that he's hurt, I'm done with him, but it's quite the opposite. I left to protect him and the allies, and ensure that we'll never be faced with the horrible reality that only one of us can live, and we have to murder the other. That's the truth of these games, only one can live. Just one. More than anything, I hope they all understand I need to be with Marina now. That's the most important thing. There was a time for us to be apart, and now it's time for us to be in this together, and for me to protect her like I promised the Capitol, and like I told my mother back home all those days ago.
Marina sighs, and stops for a moment. Realizing she's stopped, I turn and see her grabbing a bottle from her bag. "Water," she nods to me.
I stop and take a sip from my own bottle. "You okay?" I ask.
She shrugs, "Yeah I guess."
I nod and put an arm around her comfortingly. "We'll get through it together, don't worry."
"I'm lucky to have you, aren't I?" Marina looks up at me with a hint of a smile in her eyes.
"Here? In the arena? Definitely not…" I smirk, and finally get her to laugh.
"You know that's not what I meant." She says, smiling at last.
"Yeah, I know." And just like that, we're walking again with a silent canopy over us once more, like a blanket of thought.
Marina shivers in the sunrise. "You cold?" I ask.
"No I'm hot." She says in an odd tone of voice.
"Then why are you shivering?" I look at her quizzically.
"I have no idea….I'm- I'm so hot! But it's just…I'm just-" she shivers violently again.
"Marina, are you sick?" I ask, trying to keep the panic out of my voice.
"No! I am not sick so don't ask again" She answers so firmly, I have to think hard about what to say next. I know I'm skating on thin ice here.
"Okay, well at least take my sweatshirt." I hand the green fabric in my hand over to her, and she puts it on quietly.
"Thanks, I feel much better."
"No big." I smile at her, but I'm worrying inside. This isn't like her at all…something's up. I take a moment and pray that she isn't sick. We've got water, we've got food, we've got a plan, but we haven't got a darn thing to cure fevers.
It's now morning as the sun glistens on the river and peeks over the horizon, and we're pretty close to the camp. I can see the huge stacks of supplies in the distance, and another two day's journey at least, the enormous golden Cornucopia looking like a burning flame in the early morning sun. Harrison, Natasha, and I are the only ones left of the original alliance that Marina and Amber call the "Careers." I know I didn't fully belong there, but I don't regret my choices. Regret only tears the mind apart and breaks the soul away. That's what my dad once said when Marina and I were little and first had feelings of remorse and regret. There isn't a day that goes by where I don't miss my dad. Marina yawns and shivers a bit again, and I remember we haven't slept at all since the cave last night before midnight.
"I know, but once we stop for supplies and scope out the forest, we can get some sleep."
She nods and says, "You know Caleb, maybe this is what was going to happen after all. You and me, working together."
"Yeah I guess so. Everyone else expected it right from the beginning."
"About that, I never got to apologize about leaving you…there were just too many tributes and I couldn't deal with it alongside you. I guess I had to work things out on my own at first. I found Amber and we had a plan. I never meant to-"
"Marina. You were right, it's okay."
"I know but I had to follow my own- what? I was right?"
"Yeah." I laugh at her. She really needs a self-confidence check. She has much better ideas than she gives herself credit for.
"Wow. You're usually the right one."
"Well, don't get used to it." I smirk.
In the next two hours, we get close enough that Marina and I have to devise a plan on how to get the supplies quickly and quietly. We don't know where Natasha is, she could be here.
"Ok get weapons out." Marina says.
"Right," I grab my dagger, and Marina pulls out two very vicious looking knives, but her hands are shaking as she tries to hold the black handles firmly. Something really isn't right with her. I hope once we get a first aid kit, she'll let me help her.
"Wait," I say, "Remember, don't drink any of the water in the basin, it's poisoned. Plus, only grab vital things. First Aid kit, separate water bottles, and lots and lots of food. We haven't eaten since yesterday before nightfall."
"Right." Marina agrees, and we prepare to invade my old camp.
I go in from the left, and my sister runs in from the right. We scope out the area, and make sure no one's here. My heart is beating in my ears, praying Natasha's not already tracking us, waiting for us here, ready to kill. Thank god I meet up with Marina in a few more seconds and we deem the situation Natasha free. "You go down there and get some food, I'll gather the other stuff," I tell her. She nods, and runs off.
Rummaging through our old supplies makes me think of the allies I once had. I see something shiny on the ground, and out of instinct, I pick it up. The breath is almost knocked out of me. It's Sapphire's district token, a little diamond ring she wore on her pinky. She told me it was her little sister's, a little sister who'll never get to see her big sister again. I can't believe this. I haven't thought of Sapphire in days, and now here I am forcing myself not to cry. What was that she said to me? "Caleb, you inspired me…"
With a breath, I turn away and shove the little ring in my pocket and grab a first aid kit and four extra water bottles. I pass by our old main water basin and shudder. What would Sapphire think of our little stunt there? Overcome with emotion, I meet Marina back where we used to have fires at night. I realize I don't want to stay here a second longer.
"Did you get the food?" I ask anxiously.
"Let's go." I walk swiftly in the direction of the forest without even asking Marina what she got, or if I'm going the right way.
"Don't you want to see what I got? Or stay at the camp another moment?"
"No. I don't want to go back there again. Ever."
"Yeah the place gave me the creeps too." She says shivering again, her lower lip trembling. She's really worrying me. She still has my sweatshirt, but it doesn't appear to be helping. It's not even cold outside. It's about noon by now and feels around seventy degrees with a slight breeze.
As we enter the forest's edge, we're walking into unfamiliar territory. I wonder if this is wise, but I know Natasha won't suspect us here. We need to get away from her. The trunks are cold and black, and the leaves on the trees are spiky green and brown. The soil and grass underfoot is spongy and damp.
"It smells lovely here." Marina says sarcastically as she inhales deeply. When she stops walking, I notice that now her whole body is shaking, not just her hands.
"Marina? You sure you're feeling okay?" I ask trying not to sound too upset.
"Yeah I told you Caleb I'm just tired. Really…really…tired-" Marina collapses and I catch her as she faints. Her skin is burning up, but she shakes and shivers like we're in frozen tundra. I seriously doubt a simple first aid kit will have something to heal this.
Marina: Chapter 39 (Day 9, Day 10)
When I open my eyes, the Capitol anthem is blaring in the night sky. Caleb stares over me, concerned and protective. I see his mouth moving, but I can't hear a word he's saying. I try to indicate that I can't hear him by shaking my head, but I can't move. I can't move my head, my arms, my legs, I can't move anything. I start to panic. My breath is coming in short little gasps, black shadows are swimming in my vision. The only thing that is keeping me conscious is Caleb's tightening grip on my shoulder. The anthem is finally over, and out of habit, I look up at the sky to see if there are any dead, even though I am almost positive there aren't. Out of nowhere, the face of a little girl with bright blue eyes and curly blonde hair appears with the caption "District Twelve" beneath the picture. She's only a child really, just a child.
So far I haven't been able to move, I haven't been able to speak, and I certainly haven't been able to comprehend much of anything, but I know I am able to mourn, as I weep for the death of this young girl, for the death of Lacy. Tears flow down my face and drip on the ground. I'm breathing in short shuddering sobs, while Caleb tries to comfort me. I can tell he's upset too because he looks angry. Caleb doesn't really mourn the way I do. I say my first words since I woke up, "I can't believe this. I can't believe it." It's a hoarse whisper but it's all I can manage.
"I know, Mari. I know." Caleb holds my hand.
"Help…help me sit up." I whisper. My brother pulls me up into a sitting position, which leaves me dizzy and out of breath. What's wrong with me? What happened?
"Caleb, where are we?" I'm speaking a bit clearer now.
"We're deep in the foresty part of the arena behind the Career base camp and past the river. I found some hollowed out trees and made a sort of hut around you when you collapsed." I look around me and I see we're in a tee-pee shaped hut with a fire in the center. Smoke funnels out of a hole in the top, leaving the air in the shelter smoke-free.
I shiver. "The last thing I remember was being at the Career camp, and then telling you I was fine, just tired…and then nothing. I can't remember anything. What- what actually happened to me?"
His face crinkles into a very worried older brother expression. "I don't know." His voice seems to have dropped an octave. "You started acting…weird since we left. I thought you were just sad, you know, having to leave Amber behind and the others. But then you were shivering and shaking, but every time I asked what was wrong you wouldn't say."
"Right, I remember that," I cut in.
"Well then we made it to the Career camp and got supplies. Oh! Speaking of which, take these." He hands two small red colored pills to me.
"What are these?"
"They're fever reducer pills, Capitol stuff. Go on, take them. You'll feel better. Anyway, after we stocked up on supplies, we made our way to the forest. And you stopped walking. I asked again if you were okay, and you fainted." His eyebrows crease, and I realize how worried he must have been. How much more stupid could I be? I should have told him I wasn't feeling well instead of always trying to push people who want to help me away. "Then I brought us a bit further into the wood where we'd be more concealed and safe. I laid you down, and built this shelter a few hours ago. And then I waited for you to wake up…"
"Caleb, I'm so sorry." I whisper.
"Don't be sorry. Just don't be so thickheaded in the future, or I'll die of another heart attack." He cracks a smile and so do I. I fail to mention yet again that I feel horrible still and that there's no way I'll get better just by a few fever reducer pills. After his story ends, we sit for a moment in silence. Then I give him a seriously pained expression.
"What? Is something wrong? Does it hurt?"
"Lacy…" I squeak out between shuddering sobs again.
"Oh. That. Yeah, I know. It's okay Marina, it's gonna be okay."
I didn't mean to frighten him, but I couldn't help it, "No. If we had stayed maybe we could have saved-"
"Stop. Don't talk like that. We don't even know what happened. It could have been an accident…"
"Oh please. I'm pretty sure we both know who did this." I practically snarl as if she can hear me. That gives me an idea. "Natasha!" I cry even harder. I think I'm losing it. "Come and get us!"
"Marina! Shut up! You wanna get us killed!"
"No I'm just tired…" I suddenly can't keep my eyes open anymore. "Wake me up in the morning." Before I fall into a troubled sleep I catch Caleb's expression as he stares at me and feels my burning forehead. He thinks I'm crazy. Well maybe I am… something about that is amusing to me as my eyes shut and I drift away like foam in the sea.
"Good morning sunshine. Well don't I have a lot to tell you!" Caleb jokes as I open my eyes. I feel like I've slept for days. It's got to be well into tomorrow. Despite what Caleb just said, when I sit up, I'm really confused. It's not morning.
"Did I sleep the whole day? Is it nighttime already?" But that doesn't feel right…
"No I'll explain. Just eat this and drink."
I take some nuts and gulp down some water. I do feel a bit better today. I am filled with a surge of hope that maybe whatever I had is fading. In a few minutes I say, "Okay, explain away."
"Well, it's about nine 'o clock in the morning right now. I woke up at about seven."
"Just let me finish. There's a reason no one goes in this forest. And it's not because it smells bad." What he's saying is sinking in.
He nods. "There's never any sunlight here. The projection of the sun doesn't reach here. And the darkness is spreading. Yesterday when you collapsed close to the edge, it was light and now I went out past the edge of the forest perimeter and it was dark like in here. It's my guess that this is some wicked twist of the Gamemakers. No sun means it's harder to see an attacker, and easier to hunt tributes. By the final two the whole arena could be darkness."
I take a moment to process this information. "Wow. Is that good or bad for us Caleb?"
"Depends on how you're feeling today. If we're stuck here and you're feeling sick then it's bad. But if by chance you're feeling better…then we can get a move on and do something."
"Well actually I am feeling tons better than yesterday. I can sit up and speak and I think my fever's gone down."
"I've done some thinking about what we've done and where we've been," Caleb says, "And I think I have an idea about what could have caused your sickness."
I raise my eyebrows, "What do you think?"
"You could have food poisoning. We didn't really cook the fish very thoroughly that last night…maybe you got a raw one. It would explain the shortness of the sickness and your symptoms."
I think about this. I was too caught up in guilt and determination that last night in the cave I don't even remember what I ate. I want to believe Caleb so badly so I say, "You're right. Now that I think of it, my last dinner wasn't properly cooked but in the emotion of the night I just wasn't thinking properly."
I even go as far as to smile at my brother. He smiles at me and then looks away, pleased. I've done a good thing haven't I? But then why do I feel so gut wrenchingly guilty? Lacy is dead, I'm sick, we're stuck in this godforsaken forest all alone, and trapped in the darkness. At least the environment matches how I feel inside so I don't feel entirely out of place. Yet the question remains, where do we go from here?
Chapter 40: Caleb (Day 10)
By the afternoon, Marina can walk. Her walking is slow and labored, but she can move. We pack up our things, and decide to cut a path on the edge of the forest where limited sunlight can reach us, that way we aren't completely in the dark. The going is slow, but it's more than nothing. Plus I don't want to push my sister in any way. I only want her to get better, and so far she has. I wonder if I was right about the food getting her sick. It sure is a possibility.
"So which in which direction are we headed?" Marina asks as we trudge along the outskirts of the dark forest.
"East, I think. Just following the river downstream."
"And to where are we planning to go?"
"Natasha and Derek said there was a waterfall down there when they went exploring. We may as well check it out."
"I guess so."
"How are you doing?"
"Okay," she takes a moment to breathe. Her face is pale and she's panting, but she still seems much better.
With a nod we keep on walking, surrounded by black bark and spiky brown leaves. The place reeks of decaying wood and swampy moss. It's hot here too; both Marina and I have our sweatshirts tied around our waists as we make our way through the muck and fallen branches.
"It sure is pleasant here."
"My thoughts exactly," I smirk at my sister's comment.
We continue downstream for a few more hours before stopping to eat by the river bank. It's a relief to be out of the darkness for a brief time. We sit on the long swooping cushions of grass and eat some nuts and berries we picked up from the Career supply. Marina reminds me once again of the danger of the grass, and we make sure our skin is covered.
"I wonder…" she begins, then trails off.
"What?" she knows I'm nosy and I won't stop until she tells what's on her mind.
"It's just…I keep thinking about Harrison and Amber and La- well Harrison and Amber. And where they could possibly be now. Do you think they are still at the cave in the mountains?"
"No. Amber promised she'd lead the others out of there after we left to throw Natasha off our trail and to protect themselves," I explain, "Besides the shock of Lacy's death will have sent them on the move. I doubt they'd stay in the same place for too long after one of their own was just killed."
"Hmm," Mari considers this, "You're right." After a long pause, she asks, "Caleb?"
"Un-uh?" I ask between bites of leftover fish (properly cooked).
"Do you think we'll ever see them again?"
I consider this. We left Amber the leader. She had everything organized, and had a plan. We left Harrison wounded, barely able to walk. "I don't know. It's not an extremely large arena. It's about four day's journey from end to end, I'd expect. We could easily run into one another again"
"It took Amber and I five days to get there on our own in the beginning." She points out.
"Right but you had a whole two days where you were sick from the grass."
"Oh true, that did slow us down." She nods in agreement.
"But in my opinion, yes. We will see them again. I am almost sure of it." And with that, our journey continues.
The sun is making its arch across the sky as my sister and I continue to travel downstream towards the alleged waterfall. We both agreed it was too stuffy and creepy to be walking in the forest, and we think it's safe enough to get to the waterfall out in the open closer to the river. We talk along the way, about one thing or another, and I haven't felt more content to be living alongside Mari since we were first reunited. I feel secure now, like I can really protect her, die for her even. I know I would have that day when Natasha had her knife ready. I would have done it, for Mari. But I don't talk about that much anymore I've learned it only upsets her. The truth is, my death isn't what she wants. I know that. But sometimes in life you just have to get what you need, not what you want.
Like I surmised this morning, the darkness in the arena is spreading. The sky is fading to dark blue much earlier than it has in the past in this area of the arena. I almost feel like our time is running out. The arena is getting darker like minutes are ticking away on a huge clock. But I know that's absurd, it's not like the arena could ever literally be one giant clock. It only feels that way to me. As the sky darkens, I long to get to the waterfall before midnight. Marina agrees as well, so we continue to travel in the darkness.
"You sure you aren't hungry?" I ask her as we walk.
"I'm fine. Caleb, what time do you think they show the faces? That could give us a standard sense of time to go by each night as it gets darker."
"Smart girl! Well I always thought it was around nine 'o clock at night. Where did you get that idea?" I'd be lost without my twin and her good ideas.
She shrugs, "I only want to make sure we don't lose our heads."
"Shh!" I say suddenly, "What's that rushing sound? Listen!"
We both get quiet for a moment. "I hear it!" Marina proclaims. "This way!"
My sister and I follow the sound of the rushing river falling off a cliff until we come face to face with the waterfall. Derek and Natasha were right, it does exist after all. And it's huge.
"Wow. That is one big waterfall."
"Tell me about it," Marina agrees, already examining the space around it. In the darkness it's hard to see past the edge of the cliff but I know if I was Head Gamemaker that this is where I'd make the arena end. Marina goes out to touch the water by the falls. I remember something our father used to talk about…something about a previous Hunger Games, an important one if I'm thinking correctly. Yes! The Quarter Quell…and a force field!
"Marina! Don't touch it!" I yell to startle her and keep her from getting zapped or plummeting off a cliff.
"What?" she jumps up.
"Oh thank God! Back away slowly, I'll explain."
When she safely returns I explain what I remembered and she looks immensely relieved. If this is the end of the Arena, then there's a force field, she could have gotten really hurt or even died! I recalled that the winner of the 50th Quarter Quell twelve years ago used that force field to outsmart his opponent. I'm glad I remembered it in time.
The Capitol Anthem begins ringing out in the sky just as we sit down by the falls. It's seriously cold tonight. We've never experienced temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit back home, but right now I expect it's nearing 40, though it's hard to tell. There are no faces in the sky tonight thank goodness. The less tributes there are, the more likely one of those faces could be Amber's or Harrison's. When the seal shows in the sky and the anthem is over, Marina whispers something. "Nine 'o clock."
I smile, "Yup."
I look down at the rushing waterfall and watch it flow down and plummet below over the cliff. I blink and then, just like that, it's gone. The waterfall disappears and there is no cliff. The river rushes on to nowhere. There is nothing but a shimmering patch of what looks like air right in front of my face. Right in front of where we are sitting. "Did that just happen?" I venture to ask.
"Yes. It did." Marina answers slowly. "And now the force field is inches from your face! Do. Not. Move!"
A stab of fear courses through my veins. I lean forward slightly by accident and the tip of the hair gets singed off. Before I know it, Marina has grabbed me and dragged me safely away from the edge of the force field. As the Capitol announcement ended, the force field moved a great distance towards us, covering the whole cliff that I suppose no longer exists. But what could than mean? Darkness spreading…receding force field… Marina puts the pieces together before I do. "The arena is shrinking every single night!"
"We're being…trapped." I look at Marina and see my horror reflected on her face. And there goes the clock in my head. Tick Tock, Tick Tock. We are all running out of time. Who will be the next to die?
Chapter 41: Marina (Day 11)
I'm running and running. My legs are threatening to give way but I can't stop. I'm running in the darkness, blind to my attacker. All I know that is my life depends on this chase. I my heart is pounding in my ears and my breath is coming in short gasps. I trip and fall, suppress a scream, and get up as fast as I can, but it's too late. I feel the zap on my legs. It's the force field, and it's moving towards me. If I don't run, I'll be burned from it. I'm being driven further and further away from where the edge of the arena used to be. In another instant I'm running again. I see the Cornucopia in the distance, and make for it as fast as I can. Without stopping, I have finally reached the Cornucopia. The force field has finally stopped receding by the looks of it, but my instincts still say, "DANGER!" Before I have a chance to act, I feel a sharp pain in my side, and the warm trickle of blood. Without tears, I pull a long dagger from my side and fall to the ground. "Hello Marina. Wake up Darling." Her bright green eyes and menacing grin appear in front of my face and my eyes shoot open.
I'm panting for air. It was only a nightmare. Just a nightmare. Or was it? I gingerly reach my hand down to my side and it's moist. Blood. "What the…" tears are squeezing out of my eyes as the pain settles in and I bite my lip in agony and frustration. What's going on? I look up at the sky. Dawn is approaching. She must've come in the night and done this on purpose, as some sick way of getting revenge. It takes me this long to realize my hands and feet are bound with some kind of thorny vine from the dark forest. This is just fabulous. I wonder how we're going to get out of this one. We're going to…where's Caleb! Now I really start to panic. I don't care about myself anymore I just need to know where my brother is. I hear coughing to my left. I whip my head around, sending sore pains through my neck but I don't care. "Caleb! Caleb!" I whisper harshly. "Caleb! Caleb please! Please…" I'm trying my best to be strong and bottle up the sobs that threaten to choke me. What if he's dying? What if I'm all alone?
"M-Marina? Wh-what happened to us?" Caleb says in a choked voice.
"Oh thank god! Caleb, I don't know where we are. This isn't where we made camp last night."
"I can see some gold in the distance from here. I think we're by the Cornucopia."
I nod. It's like I had a prophetic dream or something. "It's almost dawn she must've attacked us and left."
"Oh she'll be back. I know she will. Ahh." He grabs his stomach with his bound hands.
"Where did she get you?" I ask in a tone mixed with fear and anxiety.
"My stomach," Caleb replies in tortured gasps. "You?"
"My side. But it's nothing major." I lie. "Listen, we have to get out of here before we bleed out."
"I know but I can't move." Caleb says struggling.
With a sigh I admit, "Me neither, but we have to try."
In a few painful minutes, I manage to squirm over to lie beside him, leaving a nasty blood trail from my original spot to where I dragged myself over to my brother. "Ouch. Ok let me see if I can undo my hands to get yours."
"Ok." He waits a few moments while I try to untangle the thorns binding my scratched bleeding wrists. "Marina, why didn't she just kill us? I mean why this whole show? Why kidnap us and bind us? Also, I've thought about it and there's no way we wouldn't have woken up if she stabbed us and dragged us all the way to the Cornucopia from the edge of the forest. She must have drugged us. That's why we can't move and stayed asleep so long."
I think about this. I have no idea why she'd want to make such a big deal of our deaths like this unless… "Caleb! We have to move. Now. The only reason she'd bind us and weaken us without killing us was if she was saving us for later. She's been one step ahead this whole time. Natasha's been planning this for a while. Her revenge has become a need to kill…the arena's driving her mad. We need to find a way to escape!" The intensity in my voice increases now.
"You're right. But I- I just can't hold on anymore. I've lost so much blood…I'm just tired. I need to…sleep. I can't stay up… I can't…" with a cough, my brother's head droops to the side and he stops struggling with his bindings.
"No! No please god no! Caleb! Caleb!" There's no cannon but I can't stop myself. I'm losing it. I'm losing everything. In a rage, I rip the vines off my wrists taking some flesh with them. I force myself to sit up next to Caleb, nearly passing out in the process. I check his neck for his pulse. It's slow and labored. If I don't act now, there will be no hope of Caleb's survival. What do I do? What can I do? Where do we go? Where is she? I can't do this alone. Not without him. I can't be strong. I don't know what to do like he always does. But if I don't get it together, I'll lose him forever. I hastily rip off the thorns from his wrists and ankles, then get my own ankles as well. If I can only get us to the river we can wash off and bandage our wounds. As if things could get any worse, I see that there is a third body bound by the Cornucopia, and another one even further away. I look around for my pack, but Natasha's thought of that too. It's gone. There's nothing I can do because nobody's here to save me this time. All I can do is my best on my own. I rip the sleeve off my sweatshirt and bind Caleb's stab wound as tightly as I can. Now I see where the knife punctured him. It's far more severe than my own injury and that scares me more than Natasha, more than death, and even more than a life of loneliness, which is what I would have if I didn't have Caleb.
The sun is nearly up by the time I get to her. It's Amber. She's about 50 feet away from where Caleb and I were dumped. Whatever drug Natasha poisoned us with is wearing off. Although I am still losing blood, some of my strength is returning. Amber is conscious by the time I get to her. She grabs my hand with a death grip. "Marina! Oh my God I thought I'd never see you again!"
"Amber! Yes it's me! It's so good to see you, but not here." I smirk. God knows how I can feel anything good right now, but it truly feels amazing to see my ally again.
"What a mess she made!" Amber cries, "First killing Lacy, the kidnapping us a few days ago, and now this!"
"She kidnapped you? Tell me everything."
In the next few minutes, Amber explains how the morning after our departure, Amber, Harrison, and Lacy, made a plan to travel along the foot of the mountains and find safety in one of the valleys. But as they started on their trail, Natasha was ready for them. She shot them with a new dart gun laced with a sedative that she must have dug up from the pile of supplies at the Career camp. When Lacy struggled and protested in her feisty way on the journey to get us, Natasha killed her. Along the way, Natasha picked up the boy from District Five as well. She herded us all here to kill us and win the Games. That's her ultimate plan after all. After a few days trip, Natasha left Amber and Harrison here by the Cornucopia together while she kidnapped and injured Caleb and me. Amber says from what she's overheard, Natasha is planning to tie us together, wound and drug us all, and burn us alive, ensuring her victory. Apparently the Gamemakers wanted a real show down, so they made sure she'd find a huge container of gasoline amongst the weapons at the Career base. She's overcome with the idea of winning and killing us to make up for all the death she's seen. It's driven her insane. Now here we are, and it's our job to make sure she doesn't succeed with that horrifying plan.
"But she didn't stab you?" I ask after she finishes her recap. I have to remind myself later to recap on what Caleb and I discovered these past few days, but it'll have to wait. There are more pressing matters at hand now.
"No," responds Amber, "but she weakened me with the drug again a few hours ago. She said she was going to get 'the weapons' and hasn't returned yet. She drugged me right before she left. The effects haven't worn off. I can only move a little."
"You said Harrison was here too? And the boy from District Five? Where?" Amber points to where I saw the fourth body by the Cornucopia, saying it was the boy from District Five.
"But where's Harrison?" She asks, her voice shaking.
"Right here!" says a voice behind me that comes up and cuts the vines on Amber's wrists and ankles.
"Harrison!" I jump up and hug him, surprising us both. I'm not usually that friendly. "How come you're okay? She didn't drug you?"
"No she did at sunset but I played dead so she wouldn't notice I was regaining strength. The rest of the details don't matter. We've got to get Caleb, now."
I am amazed by how much Harrison has changed since we last saw him. He's no longer frail or dying, but except for his limp and healing wounds, he's doing okay. He was so smart tonight to think of misleading Natasha. Without those actions, I know we wouldn't stand a chance. Thank you, allies. Where would we be without them?
Once we reach my brother, I can see that the bleeding has decreased but he's pale and barely conscious. "Caleb! Caleb come on, be okay!" I kneel beside him.
"Don't worry," says Harrison in a peculiar tone of voice. "He'll be okay. I have a plan."
Chapter 42: Caleb (Day 11 cont.)
As I lie on the ground with my wounds bandaged, my strength returning, and my wrists and ankles rebound, I think to myself how I can't believe I'm going through with this. Harrison's plan is practically mad but it's all we've got. I close my eyes and think of what I'm supposed to do. My heart beats more rapidly as I am reminded of the danger we're all in, Amber, Harrison, Marina, and I. What a master plan she's got. Never before in 62 years of Hunger Games history has there been a tribute so devious and bold as to try to round up tributes without the help of the Gamemakers and burn them alive to guarantee her own success. But that's Natasha for you, wild and insane, yet practically unbeatable. I suppose I should have predicted that she would be the one to watch out for, the one to fear, but my mind was elsewhere in those days with my old allies.
I feel my hand touch Marina's ice cold one. "Hey how are you doing Caleb?" she whispers. Natasha could come back at any moment. "Is Amber's medicine working?"
After Marina and our allies came back for me, Harrison retrieved our packs from where Natasha hid them inside the Cornucopia. Amber then helped heal me with some tight, clean bandages and some super expensive Capitol medicine we all got in a silver parachute after Harrison explained his plan. The medicine also helped get the poison out of our system, and we're all feeling a whole lot stronger. It looks like Mags and the other mentors believe in us too, and wanted to make sure we were alive to see the plan through. "Better." I murmur to my sister.
"Are you sure you want to do this? We're in a lot of danger…" Usually it's me reminding Marina of the severity of our actions, but now the roles have been switched.
"I'm positive. Harrison's right. The only way to stop Natasha is to think like her. This really could work. We could be free of her."
And then Marina says what we've all been thinking. "And then what? After she's gone…it will only be the good guys left. What can we do to survive Caleb? Kill our friends?"
I sigh deeply. "Now's not the time, Marina."
"I know. Let's just focus and keep putting it off like we always do." she turns away, but I still catch the tone of annoyance in her voice. I drop it. We can't be fighting now. We have to focus on beating our greatest enemy so far. She killed Lacy. She brought us here. She's the one who want's us dead. And now it's our turn to be devious and cruel.
When Natasha returns, we all pull a Harrison and play dead. She'll sprinkle us all with gasoline like she planned, and we'll get ready. What will sound like a scream of fright to Natasha will be Amber's signal that it's time for the action. Natasha will turn to face Amber's screaming, and at that moment, we'll get out of our wrist and ankle bindings (they are already tied very simply and loosely) and Marina will throw the knife that she has hidden behind her hands. Her knife won't be enough to kill Natasha, but it will stun her so that Harrison can be the one to make the final shot with Amber's poisonous dart gun, that will be hidden in the Cornucopia, close to where Natasha left him. If Marina can get her to stop moving, Harrison will have the proper time to aim and make a shot that ensures death, also ensuring our survival. It's risky, I know, but it's the best we've got.
As we wait in agonizing silence for Natasha's return, I have nothing to do but listen to the beating of my anxious heart and think. There are too many things that could go wrong with our plan, too many ways for people to get hurt. What if she decides to kill us before she burns us? What if Marina misses her throw? What if Harrison can't shoot? What if Amber misjudges the signal? I know these second thoughts aren't helping us, but in the grim moment, I can't help but ponder ways we could fail. Not very positive, I know.
"Don't worry guys, we can do this." I hear Amber's voice rise above the blood pumping in my head.
"Nobody chicken out. We have to have one hundred percent dedication and cooperation." Harrison reminds us.
"You know I'm in. Just give the signal and I'll gladly drive a knife through her heart." Marina snarls.
"Then we're together on this." I say quietly.
"We're doing exactly what we're supposed to do. Survive."
And Amber's words are the last I hear before her footsteps march through the tall grass. By now, everyone knows about the danger of the dagger grass so her boots make it easy to tell she's almost back to the camp. The time has come. I look up at the midday sun and pray that we are successful. Before I have time to pray for anything else, Natasha is back. And she's dragging a huge red container of gasoline behind her. I catch her eye as she unscrews the lid. She smiles at me. "Glad you could join us Caleb. Nice blood trail you got there." She points at where Marina dragged herself over to me. "Or was that Marina's? Isn't that sweet? You'd like to die holding hands, side by side wouldn't you? Well maybe if you behave that can be arranged." I glare at her until she turns her attention elsewhere. It takes all of my restraint right now not to launch myself at her and kill her right here, right now. But I must stick to the plan. Marina nods at me and we lock eyes. I know all those days ago in the Capitol I told the entire nation of Panem I'd be brave and strong in these games and stop at nothing to survive, but now here I am, unashamed to admit that I've never been more afraid in my whole life.
And it doesn't end there. To my horror, she walks over to where Marina is beside me. "Caleb I've learned over the many days I've spent playing nice with you that there's only one way to truly hurt you." She takes a red lock of Marina's tangled hair and yanks as hard as she can. Marina whimpers and cries out, but puts on a strong face and bites her lower lip.
"No! Please Natasha don't!" I beg. If she tries to hurt Marina further she'll see the knife Marina has hidden behind her back, and our plan will fail. If that happens, we'll all die.
Natasha only laughs coldly. "And so, so effective too. And when she feels pain," Natasha then kicks Marina in her side, right in her stab wound, "I feel joy. Isn't that something? It's a win-win situation here." Marina's sobbing and whimpering has caught her attention, and Natasha finally let's go of her hair and throws her head against the ground. "Oh stop it, you can cry when I kill you little girl."
Marina chokes out something, but neither of us can make out what she said.
"What?" Natasha sneers.
"I said," Marina pants, with tear streaks on her dirty face, "that I feel sorry for you. I'm sorry Natasha, for what happened to you. I'm sorry you've become so angry and sad inside, because you have nobody left to love. And nobody left who loves you." Marina then grabs my hand and shuts her eyes. The look on Natasha's face sends a stab of terror through me. I have never in all my experiences in the arena seen her so angry and hurt, and that's saying something. My heart beats faster and faster as I realize Marina's made a terrible mistake. Natasha is actually shaking. She's speechless as tears drop down her face and she grits her teeth in rage. "You're sorry for me? Sorry? Oh no, I am sorry for you little Marina."
"Why are you sorry for me?"
I see Natasha take out her dart gun and aim it at Marina.
"NATASHA DON'T!" I yell.
At that moment, Amber's scream pierces the air. We rip off our bindings and get into action. It's the signal, but it's too late. Something else is about to happen I can feel it. Just as Marina's knife hit's Natasha in the stomach, she fires a small dart gun she had with her and I watch as a tiny, shiny bullet hits my sister in the neck. We never anticipated that Natasha would be armed. They both fall to the ground. It's like my world has been thrown into slow motion. I see Marina's eyes closing as the deadly poison courses through her veins. I see Harrison fire his gun, but Natasha's already fallen, and he misses. She's wounded and bleeding, but not dead. Marina's not as lucky. The cannon has not fired for her yet, but it's only a matter of time. I've failed and now there's only one thing left to do.
With a cry of rage, I throw myself at Natasha and try to grab the knife from her stomach. We struggle on the ground, trying to wound the other in a battle of anger, tears, and hate. I feel a slight cut on my arm, a gash on my leg, and before I can get hold of the knife, a deep stab in my chest. The breath is knocked out of me. I can't breathe. I can't even feel my chest, but the blood runs down my stomach. All I hear is the cannon fire as I plunge the knife into Natasha's heart, and stare into her bright green now unseeing eyes and watch the life slip out of them. She's dead at last.
Clutching my chest with one dirty hand, I drag myself over to my sister. Her eyes are closed and her chest is rising and falling only slightly. "Marina! Marina!" I sob beside her. Natasha's dead now but what does it matter? Marina's dying and so am I. I grab my sister's hand. "Oh no God no! This is not how it was supposed to happen. I was supposed to die for you so you could win! I was supposed to save you! I'm so sorry Mari I'm so sorry." My tears drip into her red curls and I grab her pale, cold hand.
"Caleb…" she mumbles.
"I'm here Mari, I'm here."
"Did you do it? Is she gone?"
I glance over at Natasha's dead body. "Yes she's gone. She can't hurt you ever again. I promise." I kiss her forehead, trying not to let my tears drip into her beautiful sea green eyes.
"Don't cry Caleb. Just promise me you'll win. Go home and tell Mom and Gracie and- and Troy that I love them and I always have."
I look down at the blood pouring out of my chest and feel dizzy. I know there's no way I'll survive this one. "I-I…I promise. I'm sorry Marina. I'm so…sorry. I should have-"
"No don't be sorry. Just know that I…love…you." And there it is. The cannon fire. It's over. Everything is over. She's gone and I'm so close to the end. White lights keep mixing in with my vision and my tears and I am having problems distinguishing between what's real and what isn't.
I feel a hand on my shoulder, and then a cry of "MARINA!" It's Amber and Harrison. They're back from the Cornucopia with our packs. Amber is crying over Marina's dead body, and I'm in a state of shock. Harrison sees all the blood on my hands and on my shirt. "Oh my God what happened Caleb? Oh my God Amber! Not him too! Look!"
Amber turns to me and she speaks. Her mouth is moving. She's crying. Harrison is gripping my upper arm so hard it's the only thing keeping me conscious. It's okay. I can't even feel the pain. I've decided I have to let it go. I close my eyes and give into the darkness. I think I even hear my own cannon, and I know that's not supposed to happen. But I see Marina's bright aqua eyes. I hear her voice. She's telling me to come with her. We're going somewhere happy. I'm clean and she's smiling. She says it's okay, and that everything's going to be okay. Amber and Harrison's cries of grief are miles away as I take my sister's hand and let her lead me into whatever adventures lie onward.
Chapter 43: Marina
When I open my eyes, I'm wearing what looks like a Capitol hospital dress. I'm in a strange metal room, and I'm strapped down to a medical bed. There's another bed beside me, and I see that my brother is strapped to it in the same way I am. His chest is rising and falling slowly, and he's hooked up to a lot more machines than me. He has multiple bandages and stitches all over his body. He doesn't appear to be conscious. Where are we? What's going on? I can't remember anything. I take a deep breath and try to remember who I am and why I'm here. That's right. My name is Marina Alekson. I am fourteen years old. I have a twin brother, Caleb. We were in the Hunger Games. We were murdered. We are supposed to be dead. Why are we not dead? How am I not dead?
I remember now. I saw the gun. I saw the bullet that punctured my neck. I felt the poison in my blood. I felt my life slip away. I heard my cannon sound. My brother died beside me, our hands still locked together. Amber, my friend and ally, cried over my dead body. She washed my face with cool water, kissed my cheek, and braided my hair before the long metal claw reached down and grabbed my body, Caleb's body, and Natasha's body and carried us up to the hovercraft. I remember all of these things. The startling truth hits me like a ton of bricks. I'm either in some kind of afterlife I've never believed in, or I was never dead at all.
That's impossible. It can't be. Is this some kind of mistake? Did the Gamemakers think I was dead, but I really wasn't? Never before in all of Hunger Games history has the Gamemakers made a mistake, but I suppose there's a first time for everything. Caleb and I are here aren't we? But this couldn't have been a mistake, it was too carefully thought out. If I'm really alive right now, there's a reason and only they know it. I touch my face, look down at my palms, breathe deeply, and feel my neck. There's no scar. The marks of the shiny bullet that got me here are no more. They've erased it. One thing's clear. I'm alive for sure, there's no doubt about it. Now I only have one question. Why?
Why go through the trouble to fake our deaths? Why let the rest of Panem think us to be dead? What good will come of this? In frustration, I slam my head back down on the bed and squeeze my eyes shut. I think I'm losing my mind. I see Caleb in the bed beside me, not even three feet away. He looks dreadfully pale from blood loss. His hand dangles out of his straps. I look at that hand, wishing to hold it and beg for him to be okay. Because we've got another chance at life and I'm not about to lose it! Caleb's machines start beeping and I look around startled. What's going on? I push and pull at my straps, trying to break free, but it's no use. Something bad is happening to my brother and there's nothing I can do, no way for me to reach him. Why are they beeping so loudly? Is that flat line his heartbeat? Oh no. God no! Before I can stop myself I'm screaming and screaming for help. If I'm losing my head I don't care. All I know is now that we aren't dead after all, I'm not going to let Caleb lose his second chance at life. We're still here for a reason, whatever that may be.
Within a few seconds, about five strange people enter our room. I can't see their faces, but they run urgently to my brother's side. One comes over to me and stares at me for a long time. It's a man with spiky purple hair and silver piercings that are oddly noticeable against his dark skin. I see him prepare a long needle and hook it up to a tube. I know what he's planning to do. The only blood that can save Caleb is mine. I lift up the sleeve of my hospital dress, hold my bare arm up to him, and look away. I have to do it for Caleb. I feel the needle go in with a sharp pinch, and my blood being drawn out. Every time I think it's going to stop, it doesn't. I just keep feeling more and more of my blood being drawn out. Brown spots swim in my vision, and before I know it, I've passed out.
"Marina. Marina…" says a voice that's very distant in my mind. It's warm and familiar, but labored like that of a sick person. I know this voice, and I love the one it belongs to.
"Caleb!" My eyes shoot open, "You're alive!"
"I know. It's weird isn't it? Something's wrong with me."
I laugh with tears dripping down my cheeks. There are no windows in the room, but I feel l like it could be morning. Something I do know is that I've been asleep a long, long time, probably put under a sedative. I feel my side and my stab scar has been erased as well. They've been busy haven't they? Our restraints are gone, and Caleb looks pale and thin while I feel like the picture of health. However, he's no longer hooked up to any machines.
"Where are we? I thought I was dead. The last thing I remember is holding your hand and hearing my own cannon sound…which is probably just something I thought I heard in my dying mind…"
"No Caleb you didn't imagine that. I heard it too, mine and yours. I felt Amber stroke my hair, and I even felt the metal claw that grabbed us. Don't you see? We weren't supposed to die there, we never were. They have something planned for us. I don't know what but they faked our deaths for a reason."
"So what you're saying is that we're really alive after all?"
"Yes," I respond, "But I don't know about Natasha. I wonder if they kept her alive too."
"I'd guess not." Caleb says, pointing to a large wooden coffin I hadn't seen before in the corner of the room, "That's our old friend there. They brought her in earlier."
With a lingering looks at Natasha, a thought occurs to me. "This must be the room where they make the dead tributes look presentable again for when they're shipped home for burial. They must have made it a temporary hospital room for us." Caleb nods. I go on, "I'm so sick of this guessing. I want answers!" In the emotion of the moment, I stand up abruptly, and expect to fall right away. My legs feel weak but I hold my balance. Slowly, I realize I can walk after all. I look at Caleb. "Come on. You can do it. Let's go!" I point at the door in the far end of the room.
"Oh I don't know. You're in much better shape than I am."
"Come on!" I grab his hands and help him out of bed. "You can do it."
Caleb and I kind of limp forward a bit and after days of being in a hospital bed it feels amazing. We walk over to Natasha's coffin, and Caleb places a hand on the cover.
"No don't." I put my hand on top of his. I don't need to see her face again. It's a miracle we're here, she basically killed us both.
"No. I killed her, I want to see." He then lifts the cover while I look away, but I can't help it. Something in me forces me to look. They've made her pretty again. Her hair is straight with not a strand out of place. She's wearing a dark green dress and pearls, with a rose between her hands. She looks almost peaceful, and I feel almost bad for the girl who went insane with the desire to hurt and kill. Caleb stares at her freckled face with such hatred, that I need to intervene. "Hey. Caleb, look at me. Look at me!" When he finally does, I remind him, "She's dead. Hey! She's gone. Come on close it, we don't need to worry about her ever again okay?" I hug my brother tightly.
"Okay," he whispers as we stand in our embrace. "Just promise me something."
"Anything." I say with emotion.
"Whatever's happened to us, however we are here, and no matter what's going to happen to us after this, you and I stay together. Deal? We're the only thing we've got left."
I nod, my lower lip trembling. I shut my eyes and force the tears away. He's right, it's true.
Once we get back to our beds, I hear the door open a creak. There are footsteps coming closer to us. Finally! Someone is here to see us. I clutch Caleb's hand and force myself not to gasp when I see our visitor's face.
"Well Caleb and Marina, it's nice to see you alive again." With a cold laugh President Snow turns his head to us, and points at a tiny camera I never noticed before in the high corner of the wall. "I'm here to give you some… answers."
Chapter 44: Caleb
It's at this time I realize just how snakelike President Snow is. From his beady eyes to his small frame to his arching eyebrows, he resembles some of the truly poisonous water snakes we find in the pools around the sea back home. When he talks, Marina almost recoils as if he's a whip about to strike her. I never knew she was so afraid of this man, but in the moment, I find myself just as terrified. He is the reason we're here. He's the reason we had to kill other innocent children. He's the reason hundreds of kids before us have died in his pretty little games. I am overcome with a new emotion, anger.
"Marina was right. You are here for a reason," he says, licking his lips with his thin, snaky tongue. "Let's start at the reaping shall we?"
President Snow then dives into an extravagant story about what really went on behind the scenes in the Capitol during the 62nd Hunger Games. That windy day of the reaping was the start of it all. It seems like forever ago, but in reality it's barely over a month since my sister and I faced the devastation of standing on that platform together. President Snow tells us that the moment we were called, two strong, defiant twins of District Four, that he knew we were the ones. We were going to be the ones who started The New Generation. For a few years, the Capitol government officials and recruits from District Three where they breed geniuses and engineers have been working to come up with the ultimate plan to protect the power of the Capitol. A sense of unsettlement and rising determination has been brewing in several Districts, some more than others. I think about this. I remember my father's occasional rants against the Capitol and how unfair it is. They were just words to me then. But now that I have gone through the horror, they are clearer than they have ever been before.
President Snow continues to say that not only do the annual Hunger Games remind the Districts of their weakness, but it also shows the Capitol which young adults are the strongest. The victors are considered the strongest in society. They have survived more than anyone else, through the toughest of tests, the most dangerous conditions. They are the very image of strength and prowess. They are not cowards. That's what the Hunger Games are all about, survival of the fittest. President Snow says that he predicts in the next fifteen years or so, something will set the Districts off, and there will be uprisings. This shocks me. How can they predict this so-called rebellion before it happens? That's absurd. Another rebellion? Isn't that what the Hunger Games are supposed to remind us we are incapable of? Or are we? Perhaps the Capitol has known we are capable of such destruction that the Games are merely a tool to keep us all in fear and trap us in weakness.
"So," he goes on, "In order to prevent these uprisings from becoming a true rebellion, we need a secret weapon."
A secret weapon. Meaning us? Marina is brave enough to speak before I do. "What kind of a secret weapon are two kids like us? What can we do against years of brewing defiance in the Districts?"
"Ahh well, like I said you are the strongest. We need strength here in the Capitol." He walks over to my sister and takes a lock of her hair in his and. She flinches, and I squint my eyes in anger. "You, darling, will be the beginning of the New Generation. Imported men in white suits carrying simple guns won't be enough to stop it this time, oh no. We'll need and army of young fighters, equipped with technology invented by only the smartest in the country. We'll need a hundred thousand brainwashed you's." he whispers in my sister's ear, and the reality of what he's saying kicks in.
We weren't saved to live. We were saved to become weapons. Half human, half robot, infused with technology that will make us stronger, faster, and smarter murderers. They'll clone us, experiment on us, whatever it takes to give the Capitol their secret mission. Marina and I, we're just the beginning, we're the first of many more to come. I can't help being overcome with the feeling that there's nothing we can do to stop this. It's a conspiracy that's been going on for years. The opinions of two lab rats won't matter a bit.
"Why us?" I say when my voice recovers from my realization.
"Because you proved at the reaping, in training, in your interviews, and especially in the actual Games that you're survivors."
"But we aren't victors, we haven't won. We practically died in there!" Marina argues.
"No, not really. When Caleb, Natasha, and Sapphire were poisoned by the snakes and the mirages attacked them, Natasha's wasn't a simple mirage. With the help of Head Gamemaker Zane, she was brainwashed into the idea that she must kill you both, no matter what or who gets in her way. She sure did get carried away with it now didn't she?" He picks at his nails, appearing distracted or almost bored. I want to punch him more than anything.
Natasha wasn't evil. She never wanted us dead with the true passion we thought she did. She was manipulated, a mere pawn of the Capitol, like the rest of us. It always seems to come back to the Capitol.
"But why? Why go through all that trouble to save us?" Marina asks.
"Because you two are exactly what we've been looking for."
Chapter 45: Marina
There can be no escape of this maniacal, horrid plan. I feel as though there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop something so well planned and thought out, so completely organized, so evilly perfect. Everyone thinks we're dead, life will go on and soon people will forget about the Tributes from District Four all those years ago in the 62nd Hunger Games. But President Snow saw something in us, something he needs, and my gut tells me it's not only our extreme skills in both physical strength and precision that could be genetically altered to be super human, but also our refusal to give up. We have all the qualities that, when magnified in a mutt made by the capitol, could create their New Generation, the supposed only thing to prevent a rebellion.
It's almost too much to take in. I realize I'm forcing myself not to scream. I bite down hard on my lip and try not to shiver when President Snow stares into me with his snake-like eyes. His voice makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. "Oh and just in case you wanted to see the outcome of the Games you 'died' in, just press channel 7." President Snow points to a TV in the corner and strolls out of the room.
I take my first full breath since he arrived. I meet my brother's eyes, and see my horror reflected in the deep aqua irises so like my own. They tell me , Oh God what are we going to do? Without hesitation, I wrap my arms around Caleb and let two shuddering sobs escape me, but no tears come. I fight them off with all I can. Death in the arena would have been better than this. Not only will we die in the end, but we will be forced to be cloned and even worse, experimented on by doctors who view us as just another specimen. I can't bear it. I simply can't bear it. And everyone back home thinks we're dead! How Troy and Gwen and our own mother must be weeping for us. How will our little family survive without us? Surely Gwen and Troy will do their best to keep them fed and safe. The thought that I'll never truly hug my mother, or stroke Gracie's hair, or swim among the waves with my best friend ever again hit me in an instant. But that's reality now, one big slap in the face.
I sit beside Caleb on his bed. Now that we know of the cameras and that we are being closely monitored, no words of comfort or love pass between us, just the never ending silence that screams of our unfortunate fate. Helplessness surges through me and I want to scream and scream and scream until I'm voiceless. But I hold it in, and focus my attention on the television. There's a remote on the small table beside Caleb's bed, and before I say anything, he grabs it and flicks to channel seven. I nod. Amber, Harrison, we have to know what happens to them. It's depressing to know one of them must die, and I almost don't want to watch it. But I have to because there are some things we just need to know.
Amber and Harrison are still by the Cornucopia when they come into view. The extremely tall and large boy from District 5 holds a dart gun awkwardly in his hand and aims it at them. They run in the direction of the forest, headed for the shelter of darkness and black trees. Little do they know that the darkness or the force field is spreading, as we never got a chance to tell them our last day in the arena. The boy follows them as they escape, shooting here and there with the gun, but always missing. Despite his size, it is clear he's had no real training and is incompetent with a gun. Amber grabs a knife from her belt and fling's it at him, hitting his shoulder. Not bad, ally.
Of course I am rooting for Amber and Harrison in this fight, but I can't help but think of what that means for them. They will be the finalists if the boy from District Five dies. One of them, Amber or Harrison, will have to kill the other, and the thought of them turning on one another appalls me. I bury my head in my brother's shoulder as he squeezes me hand clearly thinking the same thing. I look back at the screen, and the cannon fires. Harrison has just driven a long knife he must have gotten from the Cornucopia through the boy's skull and he is dead instantly. By the grimace on Harrison's face, I can tell he got no pleasure from the kill. What surprises me is that in the longest time I can remember we've never really had a pair of two decent tributes as finalists. They do not call for the other's blood, they do not threaten to harm the other. Instead, Harrison throws his knife on the ground and looks at Amber solemnly as a silent tear trickles down her cheek.
"It's us. Just us left, Amber." He states the obvious.
"I know," she sniffles, "but I can't- I can't do it. I can't kill you."
"Look I don't know what to say, but one of us has to die." Harrison says quietly.
Amber grabs her dart gun, but she can barely hold it upright, her hands are shaking so hard. Harrison takes his long knife. They point there weapons at one another, looking serious in the faint moonlight of the dark forest. They are close to the edge of the forest, a good quarter of a mile away from where the falls used to be before they got swallowed by the encroaching force field.
"I can't do it." Amber admits through gritted teeth. "Just throw your knife then."
"No! Pull the trigger!" He yells at her.
"Throw the knife!"
"I-I can't okay?" Harrison fumes. "You and- and Caleb and Marina are the only friends I ever had. Growing up, I was forced to train since I was 10. I never had time for friends or fun things just study and train to be a tribute because it's an honor. It's what I was supposed to do all along. My father celebrated when I was chosen! The truth is, I've got no one to go home to. The only people I really trusted died here in this arena and you're not about to join them. So just kill me and get it over with!"
Harrison is really…asking for death? That's never ever happened before. Ever. I can see Amber's emotional expression as she weighs her options. Their weapons still pointed at each other, the intensity of the moment is overwhelming. I grab Caleb's arm, unable to tear my eyes away this time. The Capitol audience will be beside themselves tonight. What a success these Games were, no matter who wins. Lots of "firsts."
Slowly, but surely, Harrison lowers his weapon. "I don't want to fight you Amber. Just do it." He barely whispers his last words.
She barely places her hand on the trigger, but I can tell there's no way she'll be able to kill him. "Harrison…" the pleading in her voice is so evident. She can't do it. These Games could have gone on forever like this if Harrison hadn't taken one step backwards. With a sharp zapping sound and a tiny flash, Harrison's body gets thrown to Amber's feet and the cannon sounds. She stands there in shock. Amber gets down on her knees, shaking Harrison again and again. She feels his pulse, and after being sure he is dead, she notices that the only thing that could have killed him was believed to be miles away. The force field. She sets off at a dead run, far away from the danger zone, and from Harrison's limp body. She holds her head in her hands and cries for his death. The death of the ally that had no one left to return for. No one except her, and two dead tributes. If only he knew, but now he's dead and there's no chance to set things right.
When the hovercraft takes our long loved ally away, the trumpets that signal Amber's victory play, and the truth settles in. "Please congratulate the victor of the Sixty-Second Hunger Games, Amber Jacobs from District Eight!" booms Claudius Templesmith as Amber stands there all alone in the dark arena, in complete shock, and the TV goes black.
Chapter 46: Caleb
I look at my sister. I try to conceal the look of pain across my face, but I know it's useless. I just watched Harrison die. I flashback to all the moments we had each other's backs in the arena. When Sapphire and I found him bleeding among the supplies, and I saved his life. When we turned against Natasha and Derek and he stood by me. The fight against the mountain lions. Seeing him for the last time as his plan saved our lives, sort of. Watching his concerned face fade as my life slipped away. All of this flashes in my mind in an instant and I swallow sadness away. Marina looks me in the eyes, with a look of shared loss. A tear slips down her cheek, but I can't cry now. I'm in a mixed state of shock like Amber was, and anger at everything, but nothing in particular. Suddenly I want to scream until I can longer speak. I want to punch something and have a tantrum like I used to when I was younger, when my life was so much less complicated and I might be upset over something nearly meaningless. But now I'm almost fifteen. I am being prepared for death, but not only that, torture and experimentation. It's far more like I'm being prepared for destruction.
Impulsively, I punch the wall, welcoming the pain that shoots up my arm from my bleeding knuckles. Marina runs over to me immediately, trying to calm me down, but my rage is like a flame. As it grows it becomes less controllable. When did our lives become such a mess?
"I don't know Caleb, I don't know." Marina answers me in a teary voice. I had no idea I spoke aloud.
"What are we going to do?" I say, pulling at my hair, frustrated.
Marina places a finger against her lips, and nudges her head towards the camera in the corner. "Maybe we can think of a way to climb down the cliff." She barely whispers in my ear.
A memory pulls at my thoughts. Maybe we can climb down the cliff. The voice that speaks it is my own. Marina and I were playing by the cliffs near the ocean, just simpleminded children peering at the most magnificent sight we'd ever seen. We wanted to swim so badly, but we weren't allowed of course. Climbing down the cliffs is trespassing, and we could be publicly whipped. It was against the law, but how the ocean sparkled from up there! We tried to sneak away from our parents and slip under the fence so we could swim in the glorious water. We were about to go through with it too, when Marina overheard my mother telling my father of a boy she grew up with who tried to sneak down the cliff. She said the child was sentenced to death in the town square, and was shot in the head by the peacekeepers while his mother and father and little sister had to watch. Marina cried for an hour after that, and we never went to the cliff again.
Yet, I can tell my sister is speaking in code. She's trying to tell me something without the cameras guessing the meaning of her words. I just stare at her for a moment, and she nods at me, clearly hoping I understood her message. Climb down the cliff….what could that mean? It couldn't be…escape? She wants to escape? I widen my eyes at the thought, and Marina says, "We could do it… we could swim in the water if we think hard enough."
"I don't know. We'd need to do it quickly," I whisper, "before we got caught for trespassing."
"Am I mad? I don't know…I though all we might need is a simple…"
"Idea to get around the fence." I cut her off before she can say "plan."
"Right." She agrees. "Think on it Caleb. Is it so wrong to want to swim without being caught?"
"No, it's not wrong at all. But is it even possible? When do the doors to our room even open?" I whisper the last part almost inaudibly.
"I don't-" But the doors burst open at that moment, and we try our best not to look like two prisoners trying to stage a jail break, even though that's exactly what we are. It's the nurse, I suppose, but she never talks to us. She just checks our monitors, and turns off the lights before leaving silently. I see that it's exactly midnight on her watch before the closing door conceals her wrist. The last time we were checked on was noon. Midnight. Noon. I look at Marina and whisper under my breath, "Every twelve waves the fence opens."
Clearly understanding me she nods. "We'll just have to be ready on one of those waves."
I don't know when, I don't know how, but I do know that one way or another, we are going to try and escape certain destruction. It's not much, this hint of a plan we've got, but it's the only shred of hope I've got to cling to. "Maybe we'll swim again after all." I murmur, but Marina doesn't answer. Perhaps she's already asleep. All I know is that my life isn't over yet. Maybe our greatest adventure is yet to come. My heart beating with the idea of escape, I close my eyes and drift into an uncomfortable sleep where dreams of the old cliff back home haunt me unceasingly.
Chapter 47: Marina
It's too late. It's too late. It's too late, I think as I look up into the strange, robotic faces of our new visitors. Caleb and I had our plan set, but nothing is going as planned at all. When the two doctors came in at midnight tonight, we were going to destroy the camera in the corner, steal their uniforms, complete with the sanitary face masks and slip away into the artificial Capitol City. We could try to make it back to District Four to secretly gather supplies, but we couldn't stray off course. No, we'd never be able to stay safely in one place ever again. We'd have to set our destination to somewhere they could never get to us, somewhere so far and remote that it would even be considered undeniably safe. District Thirteen.
The Capitol informed us many times back in the Districts how Thirteen was destroyed. The Rebellion, the bombing, and then, nothing. Only ashes and radiation infested buildings remain of what used to be the home District of hundreds of people, or so we thought. The nurses were in at noon yesterday. Caleb and I have been paying close attention to their actions and procedures to tell just what we should do to overpower them and escape. Without a warning, one of their communicators received a signal. The heavily accented voice of a Capitol worker sounded among the beeping. I could clearly hear the repeated words, "New shipment in from Thirteen, must be handled with care! All personnel required for assistance! All Avoxes assemble immediately in the main tunnel. Over."
As to what an Avox actually is, we had no idea, but the rest was clear. District Thirteen exists. It is still functioning, which means the Capitol is only allowing it to thrive in secret because of whatever it's supplying. The exports must be extremely valuable. Caleb suggests some kind of material like food or fuel, but I think it's more likely a secret weapon, not unlike what we are to become. It's something they can't get anywhere else. If our theory is correct, then if we somehow make the three thousand mile journey up to District Thirteen, there's hope of safety. And that was our plan.
The night of our escape was supposed to be tonight, but now as the people return to check on us, a new fear rises in my chest. It's only been a few days since we were rescued from the Hunger Games, so Caleb and I naturally expected to have more time before being taken somewhere dark and nightmarish for experimentation. The thought sends shudders down my spine. We were wrong. These are not the usual strangely silent nurses checking on us tonight. These people are silent as well, not in a strange way, but in a frightening, more menacing way. The man is over six feet tall and extremely muscular. The woman is at least five foot nine and built strongly as well. They hold their heads in a robotic, emotionless way. They are wearing black suits and face masks, with protective plastic screens over their eyes as if the very sight of us would burn their retinas.
Caleb and I share a frightened glance. He mouths, "The plan?"
I take one more look at our visitors standing resolutely in the doorway, and simply shake my head in response. Whatever these people want, I can ensure that there will be no escaping tonight.
They handle us as if we are specimen, not children, all though I suppose that's exactly what we are to them. A hand clenches my arm and leads me onto a stretcher. I feel like an invalid. The moment I touch the metal of the stretcher, I can't move a muscle. Even if Caleb and I wanted to fight, it would be impossible. The woman handling me then straps me onto the stretcher so that when the electric current immobilizing me ceases, I won't be able to move anyway. They really have thought of everything haven't they?
Beneath the straps and despite the freezing current, I am trembling. I can't just let myself be turned into a robot! I can't, I can't I can't! I let my eyes, the one part of my body I can control, wander over to Caleb. Our eyes meet from one stretcher to another stretcher, one trap to another trap, two pawns in the same sadistic game. A black gloved hand pushes my metal prison forward, out the door, down the dimly lit hall, and onward. With an agonized scream of NO! in my mind, the slim black hand slides over my eyelids and the only freedom of movement I have slips away. I am encased in darkness, like glass coated in thick black paint. I don't know how much longer it is, when I feel that we have been loaded onto a hovercraft. A sharp tingle in my arm marks the insertion of a slim needle, and then the injection of a liquid into my veins of rushing red blood. Before I even have a chance to recognize the feeling, I am pulled beneath the subdued surface of consciousness, and the world slips away.
Chapter 48: Caleb
We're in a room with no doors and no windows. The walls and floors are made of cement. There is a single flickering light in the corner, and I lay uncomfortably on a shiny metal table. I try to wriggle out of the straps holding me down, but it's no use. They're locked. To my left is a similar table, and strapped to it is Marina, still peacefully captivated in the world of dreams. What would it be like, I wonder to stay there? To simply be free of this battle of life and death we've been living since the reaping and just live our lives in peace? It's a thought I barely dwell on as I focus only on what our next move should be. Escape is much more challenging it seems, when I'm not even sure where we are exactly.
I look down at myself and see I'm wearing a black jumpsuit with belt loops for weapons and hard padding around my ribs and back. Marina is dressed similarly. It's almost as if…we are being prepared for fighting or training of some kind. For some reason this theory doesn't make sense to me. It is completely inconsistent with my image of what was going to happen to us once the experimenting began. I saw bright lights in my eyes, men in white coats, strange metal objects poking and prodding at my skin, but never a theory that we would truly be tested. I suppose they'll have us fight for them so they can write numbers next to our names. They can turn us into statistics. They can force us to be experimented on and deformed to fulfill their needs. If our lives are lost, we are simply collateral damage in the pursuit of a perfect army, an indestructible set of warriors. The thought fills me with so much anger that I actually cry out and attempt to rip my restraints off in the process. If they hear me, let them come! I know right now if I could I'd kill anybody promoting this plan right where they stand and not think twice about it. I wouldn't have a single regret.
And then I see my sister. She mumbles barely audibly in her sleep. I catch a few words like, "Mom, Gracie…" and then, "Caleb no…don't!" She then repeats a single name in a sweet, wispy tone so that her lips barely move as the word crosses them again and again. I never heard it perfectly, but could have sworn it was "Troy…"
There had been talk around town about Troy and Marina. Like Gwen and I, they had been so close since they were very little. Our families were friends. The Aleksons and the Devons' had been long time allies, even back in the rebellion days. Everybody believed they would marry someday. I paid little attention to the conversations between some kids at school and my mother and Mrs. Devons, and I doubt Marina had any knowledge of what was being said. Still, I could never be sure if she felt that way about him or not. This particular moment shocks me in a completely crushing sort of way. Seeing Marina so vulnerable in sleep, dreaming about a love she can never have makes me so angry I could take down the whole Capital single-handedly. How can they do this to us? First, they force us to murder children our own age and younger, and then they take away any life we might have left? Trapped in this dark room all alone makes me feel so helpless. Our lives are being stolen away and I'm allowing it to happen.
This can't go on much longer. Somehow, I need to get myself and most importantly Marina out of this situation. I will fight and gain freedom, or die trying.
The door then opens with a bang. Marina's eyes fly open and she gasps, struggling against the restraints. It almost pains me to see her so abruptly shocked out of a peaceful dream of love and home. That's reality now. Peace and love have a very small place in my life these past few months.
Two figures enter the room and turn on bright, blinding lights I never noticed before. They hang from the ceiling like enormous eyes, watching me, watching Marina, analyzing us like the specimen we are now. I lay blinking into the circular lighting fixtures until my vision has adjusted fully. Then, I can see that the two people that have entered our room are the same silent man and woman that brought us from our hospital room last I can remember. Now, they aren't wearing facemasks or anything over their eyes, and they are actually holding clipboards, ready to document our every action. I can see the man has close-shaven black hair and frighteningly piercing blue eyes. The woman has straight brown hair pulled into a tight ponytail and somewhat ordinary brown eyes. I stare into those brown eyes, wondering what she must be thinking of us. Both of them appear to be young adults, which I can't help wondering how they got sucked into this "plan" of President Snow's.
My curiosity at these strange people doesn't take away my anger, but I am able to unclench my fists for a moment as I knit my eyebrows together and find my voice. "Who are you? What do you want with us?"
"You are only to speak when spoken to." The man answers in a surprisingly foreign accent. I have never heard anything like it before, it's not a Capitol affectation for certain, yet he does have the air of someone working for our sadistic President. Nevertheless, his command fills me with rage.
"I'll speak when I want!" I spit back. I barely have the chance to finish my sentence when a searing pain jolts down my spine, and I actually scream. Marina screams too, but I can hardly hear her over the blood pounding in my head, as I collapse against my metal table once the pain subsides.
"What did you do to him?" Marina's voice wavers as she shakes in fear.
"You are to come with us," says the woman in a slightly gentler tone, ignoring my sister, "and silently perform as instructed."
With that, our restraints automatically unlock as she punches a button on a tiny remote control. I stare at the thing, knowing it's what caused the intense shock of pain I felt only a moment ago. I sit up as quickly as I can, and it's all I can do not to launch myself at the two adults standing near the doorway. But I see the little remote and I know that all those buttons could mean a million ways to make me hurt in ways I can hardly imagine.
Marina rises next to me and I give her the most positive look I can, it's clear she needs some support. Her black jumpsuit is too loose on her, and I can see her thin body shaking and her lower lip quivering with fear. The look of defiance and anger in her eyes doesn't fool me. Marina hates to admit it herself, but I can tell when she's truly afraid. Fortunately, I'm too shocked and dreadfully angry to truly allow any fear to reach me. Following the controlling couple, Marina and I silently exit the little room to where ever our destination is, with only each other as support with every step we take.
Chapter 49: Marina (To be posted this weekend)
My hands are ice cold as we walk down a dark hallway that sends shivers down my spine. I look down as far as I can, but we are quickly ushered into another room before I have the chance to see where we are, or what lies at the end of this hallway. It's truly so cold in this new room, that I can see my own breath. The black jumpsuit isn't nearly enough armor to fight off this intense below freezing temperature. I wonder what it will have to do with our experimentation.
I share a look of masked concern and terror with Caleb. If I can convince him that I'm actually not scared to death, maybe I can convince myself. I analyze my surroundings right away. I'm in a significantly large room, unlike the quarters we were being kept in before. This room reminds me very much of the training room we practiced in before the Hunger Games. There's all sorts of fancy Capitol machinery here, bright lights, equipment, weaponry, practice dummies, and much more. There are also odd objects that remind me of coffins, but there are all sorts of buttons screens around them. I swallow a lump in my throat. Something tells me I'll have to be going in there.
The man speaks first, "Today, as stage one of your assessments, you will be performing as demanded, as we will analyze your speed, endurance, and accuracy. Each day we will focus on one station. Once all stations are complete, we will report our observations to the specialists and inform them on what they must improve on you."
Caleb looks indignant, "Improve?"
Instead of scolding or hurting Caleb, as I expected, the woman answers simply by saying, "Through experimentation."
I close my eyes. That is what I feared. I suddenly force back the overwhelming urge to cry. Be strong, be strong, be strong Marina!
When I open my eyes, Caleb grabs my hand and leads me over to the station were our trainers await us. There are many different kinds of weapons there, some I know, and some of which I couldn't even begin to guess. I mask a look of confusion and await our instructions.
"Practice and learn how to use every weapon here. On your own. You have four hours," says the woman in a clear voice. Then she and the man walk far away to observe our behavior. Like animals.
"Here goes," Caleb says in a shaky voice and hands me a few knives. This I have covered.
Four hours goes by quickly, but strenuously as Caleb and I struggle to become competent with some weapons we are very unfamiliar with, like the mace or the harpoon. By the time we've finished, nearly all 60 weapons have been mastered, but I'm worn out.
I watch the approaching trainers with nervousness as I wipe the sweat off my brow. What will they say? What will happen to us if they are disappointed? I fight off fear and force myself to stand up straighter, very aware of my brother's presence behind me. My stomach grumbles awkwardly as they stand before us, and for the first time today I realize neither of us has eaten a thing all day.
"You will now have a ten minute break, and return promptly to this location for further instruction." The woman nods to us, "Stay in this room, children."
I turn on my heel and run as far as I can from them. Honestly, I am somewhat shocked that the woman even recognized and acknowledged us as children, not specimen. Caleb is right behind me. We get as far as we can away from the strange robotic duo, and sit in the corner closest to the doorway.
"Well," says Caleb, out of breath from the weapon training or the running, I'm not sure. "That was tiring. I don't know about you, but I'm starving."
I rest a hand on my grumbling stomach. "They can't starve their precious secret weapons can they?" I mumble in annoyance. Caleb chuckles.
"I suppose not," he gestures at a very beautiful girl entering the enormous training room holding trays of food that must be delivered here for us. As she approaches, I catch a glimpse of her undeniably pretty face. She has two very sad looking blue eyes and full red lips that angle slightly downward. Her brown hair is tangled and tied back carelessly, and her thin wrists and loose dress show just how thin she is. For some reason, the sight of this serving girl makes my want to cry. "For you," she barely whispers as she lays the tray down with a shaking hand. I notice the bruises all up her arms as she scurries away. She isn't an Avox, but it's clear she's been forced into service of the Capitol somehow.
I've been so focused on the unusual girl that I didn't even see Caleb shoving a sandwich into my face. "Here. Eat." He commands.
We gulp down the food hastily and return to our trainers unenthusiastically after ten minutes pass. I stand watching my breath make clouds in the frigid air. I hardly noticed the cold while training, but it's clearly evident now.
"Now," the man instructs, and we focus our attention on his words, "We have a new kind of test, as specially requested by President Snow. It's not only a test of physical strength, but of emotional strength as well." My eyes widen. This cannot be good. "Using the weapons of your choice that you mastered today, you must fight one another, until one of you is unconscious. There will be no protests, this is an order." He flashes his little remote tauntingly and I know what he means. One protest and an agonizing jolt of pain down our spines. Caleb gasps despite himself. I look over at my brother with troubled eyes, defeated. There's no way out of this one.
Chapter 50: Caleb
I can't hurt Marina. The only thing I can do is protect her, that's always been my job. I know what a protest would mean for me. I know personally how much pain that little remote can bring to me. But I have no choice. I look at the spear in my hands, and know that I won't use it. I look into Marina's eyes. "Caleb…we have to." She whispers.
The dark man has a slight smile on his face. The woman stands with her arms crossed, impatient. "No," I say, "we don't." I turn to face our trainers, "I'm sorry. But I won't do this, I can't hurt my sister. I won't." I hang my head, waiting for the pain, waiting for the sensation I most dread in the world right now. But it doesn't come. I raise my head and I see the trainers staring at Marina. She's holding a club to her own head. I realize what she's going to do one second after the trainers do.
"No!" growls the man, "That's against the rules!" he grabs her wrist and shoves her to the ground. "Now, if you're going to use that club, use it on him."
Marina looks up at me from the ground where she lays. "Marina, please do it." I say, because I know that I won't be able to hurt her in any way.
Marina closes her eyes, grabs the club, and turns to face me. Right before she takes a swing, she whispers to me, "Caleb, climb the cliff."
And I know. I sense what she's going to do. In an instant, Marina swings the club so hard that it immediately knocks out the woman trainer standing just a few feet away. I grab a bow from the archery rack beside me and shoot the other trainer's hand before he has the chance to press the little remote. He shrieks and releases the remote and pulls the arrow out of his hand. And then I hesitate to shoot him again. Somehow I feel that if I kill this man, the Capitol will win. They will get us to kill, just as they want. But my hesitation is costly.
In an instant, the Capitol man has recovered from the shot to his hand. He is here in a second, and all I've got to defend myself is a bow and arrows, which will be no use up close. With nothing else left to do, I try to turn and run, but not before I am tackled to the ground.
"All this time I've wondered what the issue with you two is that gave me such a bitter feeling," he explains once I'm pinned down and unable to struggle free. Still, I twist and turn trying to wriggle out of his grasp. "And now I see why. The two of you, especially you, boy, will not follow directions. Now, here's what we're going to do…"
But he never has the chance to finish his sentence. While he was so preoccupied with detaining me, Marina has crept up behind him and with a pained grimace, brought her club down on his skull. To my surprise, it makes a sickening crack sound, and the light leaves his eyes. There's no blood, just a dent too deep in his head for him to be living.
"Oh my God," Marina lifts a trembling hand to her mouth. Instantly her eyes start to water.
"No, Marina, you had no choice. Don't worry, you did just right. Listen to me." I say with startling intensity, trying not to lose her now, "We have to get out now. The security cameras…they must have seen the whole thing. If we don't leave right away…" I don't even have to finish my sentence. It's implied. If we don't leave right now, something worse than death will surely befall us. I'm certain it will involve an unpleasant visit with President Snow, or worse, our experimentation tables.
We are running now, as hard as we can. Out the door, down the hall, searching for a way out of this long building, which now appears to be a Capitol prison. As we sprint through endless hallways full of holding cells similar to the dark room we arrived in, I don't even allow myself to peer in and see what kinds of people have been imprisoned there. All I can do is keep a firm hold on Marina's wrist and run. As I am thinking how surprising it is that we haven't run into any peacekeepers, we hear the shuffling of what can only be peacekeepers coming down the hall. We're trapped in a hall of holding cells and a few other doors that are most likely locked. Frantically, we try all the knobs until Marina starts running back the way we came. She reaches another door by the end of the hall, grabs my arm, and pulls me inside in the nick of time. Literally seconds after we are safely concealed, I can make out peacekeeper voices speaking urgently as then come down the hall. Marina has to cover a pale white hand over her mouth to keep from breathing too heavily. I do the same. The room is dark, but I can tell that it's some sort of place where food for the prisoners is prepared. Marina and I try to disappear behind some boxes and containers of bread and cheese as the voices become audible and the footfalls more urgent.
"We have a situation in the training gym. The NG starters have escaped. They could be anywhere, most likely armed and dangerous." One man's voice rings out. A few peacekeepers scoff at this.
"Aren't they just kids from the last Hunger Games?"
"They didn't even win!"
"What's the big deal?" they all protest.
"Stop!" says the leader again, "Don't any of you dare underestimate these specimen! They were recommended by the President himself to be experiments for the New Generation. As some of the few who know the true brilliance of his plan, it's our job as his personal squad to bring honor to our Capitol. Detain the NG runaways and we will be rewarded fairly, I'm sure. We're wasting time, let's go!"
And with that, they're gone. What we've just heard has made me so incredibly angry I have no idea what I'll do next. NG starters? Specimen? Experiments? That's what we are? I punch into a box of cheese and collapse against the wall. Marina puts a hand on my shoulder.
"Caleb we have to go. We don't have time to think about what we've heard. We need to get back to District Four." Every noise and breath she makes seems so magnified in the darkness.
"How can we ever get back home, Marina? There's no way. Face it, pretty soon we'll have to go back out there and give ourselves up."
"Now that's no way to be thinking." a timid voice speaks from somewhere in the back of the room. Marina actually screams a bit, but then covers her mouth abruptly. I stand up straight immediately.
"Who's there? Who said that?" We had just assumed we were alone.
"My name is Regina. I'm from District Twelve." Regina walks up closer to us and I can make out her features. I recognize her as the girl who served us lunch today in the training room.
"I remember you…" Marina speaks up. "How did you get here?"
"You mean serving the prisoners of the Capitol along with being one myself?" she asks with a sigh, "That's a long, sad story that began and ended with the 50th annual Hunger Games. It doesn't matter. It's too late for me anyway. But perhaps you can get out somehow."
"No…I think it's too late for us too." I hang my head.
"There's a new shipment of peacekeepers going to District Four on a hovercraft today."
My eyes shine with hope. "When?" I ask eagerly.
"Five o' clock." Regina's voice is so quiet it's nearly a whisper. "It's four thirty now. I can get you to the loading dock…I can get you peacekeeper uniforms from the laundry here in the back. I wash the clothes too."
"Wouldn't they recognize our faces?" Marina asks doubtfully.
"No…no one really knows what you look like. The New Generation project is so secretive, even President Snow's personal squad doesn't really know your physical appearances."
"Then how do you know about it?" I ask curiously.
Regina actually smiles a tiny bit. "I manage the security tapes sometimes. They figure I'm so useless I won't be able to do anything with the information I receive. That's why I handle all of the prisoners, even the secret ones. Maybe they're right. I've been here for years…without a purpose."
"Well you're doing something now. Maybe you can come with us! Back home!" Marina rests a hand comfortingly on Regina's arm. I'm surprised. I've never seen Marina trust anyone this quickly, except maybe Amber, but that was a different story.
So Regina leads us into the back and finds us the right size uniforms, complete with belts, boots, and all. She quickly ties Marina's hair back into a Capitol braid, and then conceals its obvious dark red color in a white hood and helmet. Regina does the same for me, and even for herself, just in case she is caught helping us to the hovercraft. Not many of the other peacekeepers know her, as she deals mostly with the inmates. Maybe she can come with us, although something about the defeat in her voice tells me otherwise. We catch a glimpse of ourselves into a thin mirror against the wall. We could be peacekeepers heading off to District Four for any ordinary reason. Maybe Regina is right, who will possibly know that we are the runaway New Generation experiments?
The time is now 4:40. We have to get down to the loading dock to make it on time. Just as we are heading to the door to get out into the hallway, loud banging against the door begins. Marina looks at Regina and I with frightened eyes. Regina grabs us surprisingly firmly and heads us around to the back of the room again. The banging continues.
"Open up! On the order of President Snow, if anyone is here open the door immediately!"
"This way!" directs Regina in hushed tones. She then ushers us out of a small door hidden behind a rack of pots and pans and into the bright sunlight of a promising afternoon. I know in my heart that the outcome of the events that proceed today will mean either my escape and hope of a better future, or whatever doom awaits not only Marina and me but Regina, back in that Capitol place of torture.
Chapter 51: Marina
When we are no longer being blinded by the sun, my eyes begin to focus in on the environment around us. Regina, Caleb, and I are on the hovercraft boarding dock. We've got our uniforms and our fake peacekeeper ID's. We tried to get pictures that look as much like us as possible, but of course they aren't exact. That's why we're so thankful for the helmets that shield our true appearances from whatever we face inside that hovercraft.
As I stand squinting at the sun, I feel Caleb take my hand. "Are you ready? We're going to have to be brave in there." he says.
"It's funny Caleb, I don't think a moment has gone by in our lives where we could afford not to be." I put my helmet on, securing my red hair neatly out of sight.
And with that, we move onward, listening to the crunch of the poorly constructed blacktop under our feet. I put on my brave face, like Caleb said. It's the face I wore at the reaping, it's the face I wore when I left my family behind, it's the face I wore in the arena when I watched my friends die, it's the face I wore when I faced President Snow, and its the face I wear now as we stride towards the hovercraft, our future uncertain as possible. Yet here we are, clinging to this hope of escape. It seems unreal that Caleb and I are even here, and not under a microscope with strange people poking and prodding at our skin on a firm metal table. We aren't just escaping to avoid experimentation of course, we are escaping to preserve peace in all of Panem. If the Capitol was to succeed in its attempt to form an unstoppable army, the lives of every human being in Panem would be at risk in the future. No one would ever really be safe again. In short, I suppose our bravery now will not go unaccounted for later. It's a somewhat reassuring thought.
As we approach the boarding dock of the hovercraft, Regina shoots us a nod of approval before we step along with the peacekeeper crowd. They're not being so serious now that they aren't on duty. The various men and women in white suits are chatting about peacekeeper things I suppose. I soon realize that we are acting strangely according to them. Caleb and Regina seem to reach the same conclusion, and they immediately start making conversation quietly as to not appear suspicious. I join in. the conversation is painful.
Only a few minutes pass when we feel the metal dock begin to rise and lift us into the hovercraft. I'm grateful to be moving on. We are then herded together with the other peacekeepers, who luckily pay no attention to us. It's extremely claustrophobic with all of these adults squeezed together in the doorway of the hovercraft. Finally, we push our way in and take our seats, trying our best to look natural, like we do this everyday. But to be honest, I've only ever been in a hovercraft once before this, on the way to the arena. I suppose I was also on a hovercraft after we "died" in the arena, and were on the way to the training center. However, I wasn't fully conscious for a lot of that trip, and most of the time we were trapped in our makeshift hospital room, dealing with the trauma of our situation together.
I know I promised to be brave, and I am doing my best, but this suit is suffocating and not very absorbent. I'm sweating from the heat of all the people and my own anxiety. When I try to wipe my hands off on the thin material of the jumpsuit, it practically slides off, completely useless. My breathing is heavier as I desperately try not to focus on all of the alien people surrounding me. I count to ten and close my eyes. When I open them, I see Caleb. If he wasn't here I would be having a much harder time holding it together.
I look at Regina. She sits with perfect posture in her chair, restraints unfastened as directed so far. She stares straight ahead. While she might just appear antisocial to the others around us, Caleb and I can tell she's staying strong by her own methods. I don't know what would happen if she hadn't come to us in this time of need. The horrific things that could be being done to us right now force a shudder down my spine and I focus on something else.
Where is this hovercraft even going? I'm not sure Regina ever told us. Maybe she didn't know, or maybe anywhere would be better than here. I know for sure that the latter is true. As long as we get out of here, then we can start running farther and farther away from our pursuers. I wonder if President Snow has heard of our escape yet. I grit my teeth knowing that the moment he finds out the country will be put in a full scale search for us. That's why the faster we get out, the better. We're running out of time, and I wish more than anything that we get up into the air before anyone on this hovercraft is alerted of the "prisoners on the loose." Then we'd immediately go from successful escapees to two children in serious danger before we even have the chance to leave.
My thoughts are interrupted by a woman in a similar peacekeeper suit as me, except hers is equipped with a badge and weapons belt. She must be the leader, because when she starts to talk, everyone in their seats stops their chatter and falls silent. I find myself oddly unable to meet her eyes.
"Everyone, the hovercraft will be leaving in approximately two minutes, with no delay." at that, our restraints automatically lower and fasten themselves around our necks and waists. I feel strangely safer, as if these restraints can really protect me from the true harm in my life. That's irrational, so I shake it off. She continues, "I ask for your utmost cooperation on this trip, and things will go smoothly. I will be coming around to scan ID's in just a few moments, once the hovercraft is securely in the air. We will be arriving in District Four shortly. Thank you." She takes her own seat promptly.
District Four. Home. I must have completely missed Regina telling us that was our destination! Before I even have a chance to react, Caleb's hand clenches mine almost painfully, and the hovercraft takes off into the air at full speed.